You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Mikeitz.
Joseph, Hanukkah, and the Dilemmas of Assimilation
MIKETZ | HANUKKAH
BY : RABBI ARNOLD M. EISEN
Ruminations about assimilation come naturally to Jews in North America during the winter holiday season. How much should a parent insist that Hanukkah is part of public school celebrations that give students a heavy dose of Christmas? How often should one remind store clerks who innocently ask Jewish children which gifts they hope to receive from Santa this year that there are other faiths observed in our communities, and other holidays? Intermarried couples are familiar with conversations about having a Christmas tree at home, or going to midnight mass, or allowing their kids to open gifts Christmas morning under the tree at their cousins’ home. The Hanukkah story is the perfect stimulus for such reflections, especially when read, as some historians do, not as a conflict between Jews and a tyrannical government, but as a dispute among Jews themselves over which Greek customs are acceptable and which cross the line to assimilation or apostasy.
How much distinctiveness should Jews maintain in a society and culture like ours that offers unprecedented opportunity and freedom? How much distinctiveness can we maintain without putting our acceptance in jeopardy? And—perhaps the most difficult question on the communal agenda these days—how much distinctiveness can Jews afford to sacrifice without losing Jewish children and grandchildren to the ways and identity of the majority?
Joseph—the most important figure among the first generation of the children of Israel—struggles with a version of these same dilemmas as he rises from one prison-pit after another to the height of power at the court of Pharaoh. Of all the dramatic moments in the gripping story of his reconciliation with the brothers who once betrayed him, none is more poignant, I think, than when Pharaoh tells Joseph that he will have absolute power limited only by the Pharaoh himself. The astute ruler had taken the measure of Joseph and realized immediately that this “shrewd and perceptive” Israelite was perfectly suited to the nasty work of gathering up all the grain of Egypt during the seven years of plenty, and selling it back to them during the seven years of famine. (Gen. 41:38-44) He immediately gives Joseph two gifts that can be read as heart-wrenching examples of the price he will pay for that power. Joseph will have an Egyptian name, Tsafenat Pane’ah—“the sustainer of life”—and an Egyptian wife, Asenat, the daughter of a priest, Poti Fera. (41:45).
The story that follows reads differently because of those moves by the king to forcibly integrate Joseph into Egyptian society and culture. Joseph himself testifies to the pain of his situation as the highest outsider in the land. When (vv. 50-52) “two sons were born to [him] by Asenat the daughter of Poti Fera, the priest of On, Joseph called the first-born Menasheh, because ‘God has made me forget completely my hardship and the house of my father.’ And Joseph called the second son Ephraim, because ‘God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.’” We will soon learn that he has not forgotten the pain suffered in his father’s house. When the brothers arrive to purchase grain, he at once recognizes them and—seeing them bow before him—remembers the dream in which they symbolically had done exactly that. (42:6-9) He has not forgotten his father either: when the brothers return home empty-handed, having left Simeon behind as a hostage, they tell Jacob (43:7) that the man in charge of distributing grain had asked them if their father was still alive—and, in next week’s portion Vayigash, when Joseph finally breaks down in tears and reveals himself to his brothers (45:3), the very first question out of his mouth will be, “Is my father still alive?”
Consider the irony: the survival of the children of Israel is secured by this child of Israel who, married to the daughter of a gentile priest, brings his family down to Egypt, where he and they loyally serve the Pharaoh. The survival of the Children of Israel in a later generation will be secured by another Israelite, that one from the tribe of Levi, also married to the daughter of a gentile priest, who will lead a rebellion that liberates his people from Pharaoh’s service/slavery. (The Hebrew word for “slavery” and “service” is the same.) Had Joseph and Moses not been at home at Pharaoh’s court, wise in the ways of ministers and kings, skillful at magic arts beyond the capacity of Pharaoh’s magicians (dream interpretation and the working of miracles), and gifted with the right word at the right time and inside knowledge of Egyptian society and culture; and had they not, despite all this, retained a strong sense of divine mission and purpose—they would not have been able to perform the redemptive tasks assigned them.
We might say, in contemporary terms, that a certain measure of assimilation was required for their success, as was a measure of resistance to assimilation. Contemporary Jews know from experience that the balance is difficult to calibrate correctly. That has been all the more true of the Jews who have served gentile kings and courts over the centuries—and by so doing, served their people and their God. From the poet and general Shmuel Hanagid at the Spanish court to Henry Kissinger at the Nixon White House to the many humble tax collectors in Polish domains populated by Ukrainian peasants, the Joseph story has time after time repeated itself.
Gerson Cohen, chancellor of JTS from 1972 to 1986 and a magisterial historian of Jewish societies and cultures in many eras on many continents, probed these dilemmas 50 years ago in a brilliant essay entitled “The Blessing of Assimilation in Jewish History.” Cohen took issue with the well-known midrash that attributes Jewish survival to the fact that our ancestors did not change their names, abandon their ancestral language, or stop wearing distinctive clothing. He notes that this generalization did not hold for Jacob’s grandchildren in Egypt (who according to the Torah took Egyptian names such as Aaron and Moses), or for the later generations who adopted Greek names like those of the ambassadors whom Judah Maccabee sent to Rome, Jason and Eupolemos. Nor did Jews refrain from writing and giving sermons in other languages than Hebrew, or (when permitted to do so) from dressing like their gentile neighbors. (The author of this Torah commentary, written in English, of course bears the name Arnold, and happens to be wearing slacks and a V-neck sweater.) Cohen forcefully disputed the claim that Jews survived only by remaining utterly distinct from the cultures that surrounded them. Rather, “a frank appraisal of the periods in which Judaism flourished will indicate that not only did a certain amount of assimilation and acculturation not impede Jewish continuity, but that in a profound sense, this assimilation and acculturation was a stimulus to original thinking and expression, a source or renewed vitality.” (Jewish History and Jewish Destiny, 151)
The lesson of Hannukkah, then, or of the Joseph story, or of countless episodes in the long history of Jewish encounter with gentile ways, is that if Jews assimilate completely to those ways, we lose our own way, and Jewish continuity is lost with it, but if we don’t wish to “ghettoize” ourselves, or allow Judaism to become “fossilized,” we will need “to assimilate—at least to some extent.” (ibid.,152) That has meant learning to speak new languages, and to have Torah speak in those languages. We have adapted customs and laws to new circumstances and found latent meanings in classical texts that previous generations had not seen there. We continue to draw lines that are at times squiggly or blurred, and at other times razor-sharp—and to argue with one another about which kind of boundary is required, and how to maintain it. And thanks to the cycle of weekly Torah readings, Joseph is here with us each year to guide us through the complexities of this holiday season.
From T’ruah (M)oral Torah
Never Forget the Hungry
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
This week’s Parashah, Miketz, contains the well known story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams about the seven fat cows being devoured by the seven skinny cows and the seven healthy sheaves of wheat being displaced by the seven sickly sheaves.
Joseph, brought out of his prison cell to interpret the dreams, goes farther and advises Pharaoh on how Egypt can survive the coming famine: “Now, therefore let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt… and let him appoint overseers over the land and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty… And the food shall be a store to the land against the seven years of famine… that the land perish not through the famine.” (Gen. 41:31-36)
Joseph’s words contain an understanding of what it means to be hungry. In his life he has known both plenty and deprivation. His life begins as the son and grandson of wealthy men. He is sold into slavery, becomes the head of Potiphar’s household, and until this moment he has languished in prison. He understands both what it means to have food and what it feels like to hunger for a most basic meal. His advice to Pharaoh is a call to ensure the survival of all Egyptians, not just the rich.
While not phrased this way, in this moment Joseph calls upon Pharaoh to remember and understand the heart of all people. Sadly, as time passes, Joseph forgets he has lived with food uncertainty while languishing in prison.
In her commentary New Studies In Bereshit: Genesis, Nehama Leibowitz writes: “According to Rashi, the lean cows’ devouring of the fat ones, without any improvement in their state, expresses the eating in terms of the destruction of the object eaten, and not of the beneficial effect on the eater. Accordingly, the eating and swallowing of the fat cows by the lean ones has to be taken as symbolising the forgetting of the period of plenty in the days of famine.”
Joseph, however, does not forget the time of plenty. Rather, while the land starves, he works to ensure that he, his family, the Egyptian priesthood, and Pharaoh will always have plenty. In next week’s Parashah, Vayigash, we read (Chapter 47:12 -26) that Joseph first charges for the food and seed that he took from the people in the seven years of plenty; then, when they are out of money, he takes their livestock and finally their land, making them at best landless serfs to Pharaoh and Joseph.
The parallel to our own times is sadly obvious. Instead of the Joseph who calls upon Pharaoh to remember and understand the heart of the people, we live in the society of the later Joseph who sets up a system that ensures some will always have plenty because of the labor of those who eke by.
Which Joseph do we want to be?
Rabbi Rosenfeld’s portrayal of the two Josephs also appears in T’ruah’s text study about human rights and climate change.
Harry Rosenfeld is the rabbi of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, NM. He has previously served congregations in Memphis, TN, Anchorage, AK, and Buffalo, NY.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Appearance and Reality
After twenty-two years and many twists and turns, Joseph and his brothers finally meet. We sense the drama of the moment. The last time they had been together, the brothers planned to kill Joseph and eventually sold him as a slave. One of the reasons they did so is that they were angry at his reports about his dreams; he had twice dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. To them that sounded like hubris, excessive confidence, and conceit.
Hubris is usually punished by nemesis and so it was in Joseph’s case. Far from being a ruler, his brothers turned him into a slave. Now, unexpectedly, in this week’s parsha, the dreams become reality. The brothers do bow down to him, “their faces to the ground” (Gen. 42:6). It may feel as though the story has reached its end. Instead it turns out to be only the beginning of another story altogether, a tale of sin, repentance and forgiveness. Biblical stories tend to defy narrative conventions.
The reason, though, that the story does not end with the brothers’ meeting is that only one person present at the scene, Joseph himself, knows that it is a reunion.
“As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognised them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them … Joseph recognised his brothers, but they did not recognise him” (Gen. 42:7-8).
There were many reasons they did not recognise him. Many years had passed. They did not know he was in Egypt. They believed he was still a slave, whereas this man was a viceroy. Besides which, he looked like an Egyptian, spoke Egyptian, and had an Egyptian name, Tsofnat Paaneach. Most importantly, though, he was wearing the uniform of an Egyptian of high rank. That had been the sign of Joseph’s elevation at the hand of Pharaoh when he interpreted his dreams:
So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain round his neck. He made him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way.” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. (Gen. 41:41-43)
We know from Egyptian wall paintings and from archaeological discoveries like Tutankhamen’s tomb, how stylised and elaborate were Egyptian robes of office. Different ranks wore different clothes. Early Pharaohs had two headdresses, a white one to mark the fact that they were kings of upper Egypt, and a red one to signal that they were kings of lower Egypt. Like all uniforms, clothes told a story, or as we say nowadays, “made a statement.” They proclaimed a person’s status. Someone dressed like this Egyptian before whom the brothers had just bowed could not possibly be their long-lost brother Joseph. Except that he was.
This seems like a minor matter. I want in this essay to argue the opposite. It turns out to be a very major matter indeed. The first thing we need to note is that the Torah as a whole, and Genesis in particular, has a way of focusing our attention on a major theme: it presents us with recurring episodes. Robert Alter calls them “type scenes.” There is, for example, the theme of sibling rivalry that appears four times in Genesis: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers. There is the theme that occurs three times of the patriarch forced to leave home because of famine, and then realising that he will have to ask his wife to pretend she is his sister for fear that he will be murdered. And there is the theme of finding-future-wife-at-well, which also occurs three times: Rebecca, Rachel and (early in the book of Exodus) Jethro’s daughter Zipporah.
The encounter between Joseph and his brothers is the fifth in a series of stories in which clothes play a key role. The first is Jacob who dresses in Esau’s clothes while bringing his father a meal so that he can take his brother’s blessing in disguise. Second is Joseph’s finely embroidered robe or “coat of many colours,” which the brothers bring back to their father stained in blood, saying that a wild animal must have seized him. Third is the story of Tamar taking off her widow’s dress, covering herself with a veil, and making herself look as if she were a prostitute. Fourth is the robe Joseph leaves in the hands of Potiphar’s wife while escaping her attempt to seduce him. The fifth is the one in today’s parsha in which Pharaoh dresses Joseph as a high-ranking Egyptian, with clothes of linen, a gold chain, and the royal signet ring.
What all five cases have in common is that they facilitate deception. In each case, they bring about a situation in which things are not as they seem. Jacob wears Esau’s clothes because he is worried that his blind father will feel him and realise that the smooth skin does not belong to Esau but to his younger brother. In the end it is not only the texture but also the smell of the clothes that deceives Isaac:
“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field the Lord has blessed” (Gen. 27:27).
Joseph’s stained robe was produced by the brothers to conceal the fact that they were responsible for Joseph’s disappearance. Jacob “recognised it and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces” (Gen. 37:33).
Tamar’s façade as a veiled prostitute was intended to deceive Judah into sleeping with her since she wanted to have a child to “raise up the name” of her dead husband Er. Potiphar’s wife used the evidence of Joseph’s torn robe to substantiate her claim that he had tried to rape her, a crime of which he was wholly innocent. Lastly, Joseph used the fact that his brothers did not recognise him to set in motion a series of staged events to test whether they were still capable of selling a brother as a slave or whether they had changed.
So the five stories about garments tell a single story: things are not necessarily as they seem. Appearances deceive. It is therefore with a frisson of discovery that we realise that the Hebrew word for garment, b-g-d, is also the Hebrew word for “betrayal,” as in the confession formula, Ashamnu, bagadnu, “We have been guilty, we have betrayed.”
Is this a mere literary conceit, a way of linking a series of otherwise unconnected stories? Or is there something more fundamental at stake?
It was the nineteenth century Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz who pointed out a fundamental difference between other ancient cultures and Judaism:
“The pagan perceives the Divine in nature through the medium of the eye, and he becomes conscious of it as something to be looked at. On the other hand, to the Jew who conceives God as being outside of nature and prior to it, the Divine manifests itself through the will and through the medium of the ear . . . The pagan beholds his god, the Jew hears Him; that is, apprehends His will.”
In the twentieth century, literary theorist Erich Auerbach contrasted the literary style of Homer with that of the Hebrew Bible. In Homer’s prose we see the play of light on surfaces. The Odyssey and The Iliad are full of visual descriptions. By contrast, biblical narrative has very few such descriptions. We do not know how tall Abraham was, the colour of Miriam’s hair, or anything about Moses’ appearance. Visual details are minimal, and are present only when necessary to understand what follows. We are told for example that Joseph was good-looking (Gen. 39:6) only to explain why Potiphar’s wife desired him.
The key to the five stories occurs later on in Tanach, in the biblical account of Israel’s first two Kings. Saul looked like royalty. He was “head and shoulders above” everyone else (1 Sam. 9:2). He was tall. He had presence. He had the bearing of a King. But he lacked self-confidence. He followed the people rather than leading them. Samuel had to rebuke him with the words, “You may be small in your own eyes but you are Head of the Tribes of Israel.” Appearance and reality were opposites. Saul had physical but not moral stature.
The contrast with David was total. When God told Samuel to go to the family of Yishai to find Israel’s next King, no one even thought of David, the youngest and shortest of the family. Samuel’s first instinct was to choose Eliav who, like Saul, looked the part. But God told him, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Only when we have read all these stories are we able to return to the first story of all in which clothes play a part: the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, after eating which they see they are naked. They are ashamed and they make clothes for themselves. That is a story for another occasion but its theme should now be clear. It is about eyes and ears, seeing and listening. Adam and Eve’s sin had little to do with fruit, or sex, and everything to do with the fact that they let what they saw override what they had heard.
“Joseph recognised his brothers, but they did not recognise him.”
The reason they did not recognise him is that, from the start, they allowed their feelings to be guided by what they saw, the “coat of many colours” that inflamed their envy of their younger brother. Judge by appearances and you will miss the deeper truth about situations and people. You will even miss God Himself, for God cannot be seen, only heard. That is why the primary imperative in Judaism is Shema Yisrael, “Listen, O Israel,” and why, when we say the first line of the Shema, we place our hand over our eyes so that we cannot see.
Appearances deceive. Clothes betray. Deeper understanding, whether of God or of human beings, cannot come from appearances. In order to choose between right and wrong, between good and bad – in order to live the moral life – we must make sure not only to look, but also to listen.
 Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, New York, Basic Books, 1981, 55-78.
 Heinrich Graetz, The Structure of Jewish History, and other essays, New York, Ktav Publishing House, 1975, 68.
 Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957, 3-23.
From T’ruah Torah
How A White Rabbi and An African-American Pastor Read Joseph’s Story Completely Differently
A D’var Torah for Parshat Miketz
This summer, as we lived through the social upheaval fueled by COVID-19 and sparked by police brutality, I began to recognize more clearly the passive yet growing isolation and alienation between Jewish and African-American communities. (Recognizing, of course, that these are not mutually exclusive categories — that African-American Jews inhabit both worlds and are caught in the midst of this alienation.)
Knowing how direct relationships can serve as bridges of understanding, I reached out to my colleague Reverend Elwood McDowell, pastor of an African-American church and lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Arizona, to invite him to co-host a podcast with me. We had a dynamic conversation about political, communal, and social issues, but what really bonded us together was how we, as leaders of faith, view these issues through a spiritual lens. We address our relationship with God and our responsibility to one another in a way that transcends the lines of race, religion, class, and nationality, but does not erase those lines.
In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Joseph is propelled from the dungeon into Pharaoh’s palace. Because of my lens as the descendent of American Jewish immigrants, I have always read this part of the Torah as an immigration story. Joseph comes to this foreign land with nothing, and through faith in his relationship with God, he thrives in dark places to fulfill his destiny, which he dreamed about as a child. Joseph achieves the enviable position of power. A moment ago, he was cast away in the dungeon; now, he wields power over all of Egypt.
At this pinnacle, Joseph has children in his new homeland. We gain an important insight into Joseph’s self-understanding through the explanation he gives of his children’s names:
“Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, ‘God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.’ And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, ‘God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.’” (Genesis 41:51-52)
The Joseph narrative is our people’s story of the American Dream: surviving oppression, coming to a new land, and building a new successful life. Jewish creators of superheroes of the 20th century fantasized about someone who could overcome their burdens, like Joseph, by transforming into a new person with superpowers. So too, on a family level, Jewish writers of the classic family sitcoms portrayed the idealized suburban family, shaping and reflecting American, especially Jewish American, aspirations. We needed to transcend our bitter family conflicts to achieve the main goal — taking our place in American society. Perhaps, like Joseph’s acknowledgement of still being in the “land of his affliction,” we maintain the awareness that, despite our wealth and power, we still struggle to preserve our Jewish community and values.
Reverend McDowell read the Joseph story completely differently: as a story of slavery, not immigration. Joseph did not leave his parents’ house; he was sold. This reading more accurately describes what happened to Joseph and gives new meaning to the explanations Joseph gives for his children’s names.
“God has made me forget…” Joseph needed to forget his family home to survive all the subsequent indignities he would endure: abandoned in the dungeon, abused by his master and mistress with false allegations, and — perhaps most cutting — sold into slavery by his own brothers.
“God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.” Even after Joseph gained immense power, he remained a slave. He was under Pharaoh’s rule. Reverend McDowell poignantly made this point by contrasting Joseph with Moses. While Moses would break away from the heart of the slave society to redeem his people, Joseph represented, enforced, and spread the oppression of the system by wielding power from his position inside of it. “God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.” Maybe Joseph speaks with irony here about fertility, invoking the opposite meaning of what he says, a common device employed by African slaves that continues in African-American culture today. By contrast, he speaks openly of his affliction because there is no fooling anyone about his status; he is still a slave.
This African-American perspective turned the story of Joseph on its head for me. Not only did it illuminate parts of the text in new ways, but it has helped me better understand another people’s experience of history. Reading the text in this way has contributed to my faith journey — deepening my awareness, presenting me with different challenges, and demanding of me new commitments. I have focused most of my efforts as a rabbi on strengthening Jewish identity. While this is a vital mission, the upheaval in our society has made me more aware that making Jewish identity our prime concern risks perpetuating our community’s position of privilege. A Jewish identity that is built in dialogue with other communities enriches our understanding of who we are and animates our perspective on the truth.
Rabbi Ruven Barkan resides in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. He is the co-host of the podcast, “Walking Humbly Together: an African American and a Jew; a pastor and a rabbi” which will be airing shortly.
Three Approaches to Dreams
In one of the greatest transformations in all literature, Joseph moves in a single bound from prisoner to Prime Minister. What was it about Joseph – a complete outsider to Egyptian culture, a “Hebrew,” a man who had been languishing in jail on a false charge of attempted rape – that marked him out as a leader of the greatest empire of the ancient world?
Joseph had three gifts that many have in isolation but few in combination. The first is that he dreamed dreams. Initially we do not know whether his two adolescent dreams – of his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his, and of the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him – are a genuine presentiment of future greatness, or merely the overactive imagination of a spoiled child with delusions of grandeur.
Only in this week’s parsha of Mikketz do we discover a vital piece of information that has been withheld from us until now. Joseph says to Pharaoh, who has also had two dreams: “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon” (Gen. 41:32). Only in retrospect do we realise that Joseph’s double dream was a sign that this, too, was no mere imagining. Joseph really was destined to be a leader to whom his family would bow down.
Second, like Sigmund Freud many centuries years later, Joseph had a gift for interpreting the dreams of others. He did so for the butler and baker in prison and, in this week’s parsha, for Pharaoh. His interpretations were neither magical nor miraculous. In the case of the butler and baker he remembered that in three days’ time it would be Pharaoh’s birthday (Gen. 40:20). It was the custom of rulers to make a feast on their birthday and decide the fate of certain individuals. (In Britain, the Queen’s birthday honours continue this tradition.) It was reasonable therefore to assume that the butler’s and baker’s dreams related to this event and their unconscious hopes and fears.
In the case of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph may have known ancient Egyptian traditions about seven-year famines. Nahum Sarna quotes an Egyptian text from the reign of King Djoser (ca. twenty-eighth century BCE):
I was in distress on the Great Throne, and those who are in the palace were in heart’s affliction from a very great evil, since the Nile had not come in my time for a space of seven years. Grain was scant, fruits were dried up, and everything which they eat was short.
Joseph’s most impressive achievement, though, was his third gift, the ability to implement dreams, solving the problem of which they were an early warning. No sooner had he told of a seven-year famine then he continued, without pause, to provide a solution:
“Now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.” (Gen. 41:33-36)
We have seen Joseph the brilliant administrator before, both in Potiphar’s house and in the prison. It was this gift, demonstrated at precisely the right time, that led to his appointment as Viceroy of Egypt.
From Joseph, therefore, we learn three principles. The first is: dream dreams. Never be afraid to let your imagination soar. When people come to me for advice about leadership, I tell them to give themselves the time and space and imagination to dream. In dreams we discover our passion, and following our passion is the best way to live a rewarding life.
Dreaming is often thought to be impractical. Not so; it is one of the most practical things we can do. There are people who spend months planning a holiday but do not give even a day to planning their life. They let themselves be carried by the winds of chance and circumstance. That is a mistake. The Sages said, “Wherever [in the Torah] we find the word vayehi, ‘And it came to pass,’ it is always the prelude to tragedy.” A vayehi life is one in which we passively let things happen. A yehi (“Let there be”) life is one in which we make things happen, and it is our dreams that give us direction.
Theodor Herzl, to whom more than any other person we owe the existence of the State of Israel, used to say, “If you will it, it is no dream.” I once heard a wonderful story from Eli Wiesel. There was a time when Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl lived in the same district of Vienna. “Fortunately,” he said, “they never met. Can you imagine what would have happened had they met? Herzl would have said: ‘I have a dream of a Jewish state.’ Freud would have replied: ‘Tell me, Herr Herzl, how long have you been having this dream? Lie down on my couch, and I will psychoanalyse you.’ Herzl would have been cured of his dreams and today there would be no Jewish state.” Thankfully, the Jewish people have never been cured of their dreams.
The second principle is that leaders interpret other people’s dreams. They articulate the inchoate. They find a way of expressing the hopes and fears of a generation. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech was about taking the hopes of Black Americans and giving them wings. It was not Joseph’s dreams that made him a leader; it was Pharaoh’s. Our own dreams give us direction; it is other people’s dreams that give us opportunity.
The third principle is: find a way to implement dreams. First see the problem, then find a way of solving it. The Kotzker Rebbe once drew attention to a difficulty in Rashi’s writing. Rashi (Ex. 18:1) says that Yitro was given the name Yeter (meaning, “he added”) because “he added a passage to the Torah beginning [with the words], “Choose from among the people …” (Ex. 18:21).This occurred when Yitro saw Moses leading alone and told him that what he was doing was not good: he would wear himself and the people to exhaustion. Therefore he should choose good people and delegate much of the burden of leadership to them.
The Kotzker pointed out that the passage that Yitro added to the Torah did not actually begin, “Choose from among the people.” It began several verses earlier when he said, “What you are doing is not good.” (Ex. 18:17) The answer the Kotzker gave was simple. Saying “What you are doing is not good” is not an addition to the Torah – it is merely stating a problem. The addition consisted in the solution: delegating.
Good leaders either are, or surround themselves with, problem-solvers. It is easy to see when things are going wrong. What makes a leader is the ability to find a way of putting them right. Joseph’s genius lay not in predicting seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, but in devising a system of storage that would ensure food supplies in the lean and hungry years.
Dream dreams; understand and articulate the dreams of others; and find ways of turning a dream into a reality – these three gifts are leadership, the Joseph way.
 Ibn Ezra 40:12 and Bechor Shor 40:12 both make this suggestion.
 Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis, New York, Schocken, 1966, 219.
 One of the classic texts on this subject is Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).
 Megillah 10b.
Strangers to Ourselves
BY RABBI JAN UHRBACH
The Joseph narrative contains a striking number of contranyms—words that simultaneously convey opposite meanings. Why?
Contranyms are a natural linguistic expression of the Torah’s insistence that a “both/and” perspective is essential to understanding deep truths, other people, and ourselves. The portrayal of Joseph is a prime example:
Is Joseph a hero, who saves everyone from famine? Or is he an authoritarian enabler who, seduced by proximity to power and wealth, sets the stage for oppression by consolidating land, wealth, and population control under Pharaoh?
Are his machinations with his brothers a test of their remorse and repentance, calculated to lead to reconciliation? Or is he using his position to exact revenge, cruelly toying with his brothers’ and father’s fears?
Is he genuinely pious, or does he abuse his charismatic gifts in the service of his ego, invoking God to shore up his position, or to appear humble and disinterested?
Does he truly wield power, or has he surrendered his agency—becoming the highest-ranking slave to Pharaoh, enslaved as well to his own emotional needs?
The answer in every case is “yes.” But it’s hard to hold simultaneously such conflicting views of one person. So depending on how we’ve “read” Joseph in the past and what we expect from our biblical ancestors (do we want to admire and emulate them? do we want to critique them?), we as readers are likely to credit some aspects of the story while discounting or not even noticing other details. As with people in our lives, absent significant effort and ongoing study, we tend to construct for ourselves an artificially smooth narrative of who Joseph is, consisting of only part of the reality.
This tendency helps explain the most striking contranym in the story, the root נכר (nun-khaf-resh), which is used—within a single verse—to mean both “recognize” and “unrecognizable”: “When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them (וַיַּכִּרֵ֑ם / vayakirem); but he made himself unrecognizable (וַיִּתְנַכֵּ֨ר / vayitnaker) to them” (Gen. 42:7).
The term refers to actual identification, of course, but suggests much more. I “recognize” someone when I see them accurately as an independent Other, acknowledging and accepting what we share and also how we differ. To “not be recognized” is to be overlooked or seen falsely—as a partial rather than whole self, or a projection of the one seeing.
The problem of recognizing an Other is thus entangled with the problem of recognizing one’s self. If I don’t recognize my own preconceptions, biases, unconsciousness narratives, agendas, etc., how can I know if I’m truly seeing anyone else?
“Joseph recognized (וַיַּכֵּ֥ר / vayaker) his brothers, but they did not recognize him ( לֹ֥א הִכִּרֻֽהוּ / lo hikruhu)” (Gen. 42:8).
The Midrash explains that Joseph could recognize his brothers because when he left them, they were already fully mature and bearded. He however was a youth, and the greater change in his appearance made him unrecognizable now (Genesis Rabbah 91:7).
But in a stunningly insightful (and contemporary!) reading, the Or Hahayyim (Chaim Ibn Attar, 18th c. Morocco) rejects this. He explains that, usually, once I know you dawns on one person, the Other too senses it unconsciously and begins scrutinizing more carefully, eventually also realizing, ah yes, I do know this person. But the Torah specifically informs us that that didn’t happen. Why? Because seeing him in such an exalted position, says the Or Hahayyim, they had already decided what they would see in him, and “distanced this thought from their consciousness.” In other words, because the brothers’ operative narrative had Joseph in a debased, disempowered state, at the bottom of an actual pit the last time they saw him, they were unable or unwilling to recognize him raised high.
This reading comes remarkably close to what cognitive scientists call confirmation bias—the human tendency to only notice or give credence to data if it can be understood as conforming to our existing beliefs, such that our views of Self and Other tend to reinforce themselves. The brothers’ confirmation bias prevented them from recognizing him. But Joseph “made himself strange” (an alternate translation of vayitnaker)—a good description of the conscious effort required to see past what we already believe—and so he could recognize them.
Now we can understand the profound significance of having the same word mean both “recognize” and “unrecognizable.” A simple inability to make a physical identification may be the result of too little familiarity. But deeper failures of recognition are often a problem of too much familiarity: we fail to truly see someone because we think we already know who they are. Recognition thus depends upon a kind of estrangement, allowing who and what we think we know to become a bit foreign, becoming strangers to ourselves.
It is no accident that this insight is highlighted just at this point in the story, as it begins its movement toward the dramatic reconciliation of brothers who hated and hurt one another. Stepping out of our familiar interior landscapes into a strange land of new thoughts—becoming a bit foreign to ourselves—takes effort and courage. But it is essential to moving past hatred, to seeking and granting forgiveness, to truly seeing and understanding the Other, ourselves, and our world.
From the Hebrew College
“The greatest desire of all is to be in the dream of another…”
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph and his Egyptian wife Osnat give birth to two sons, first Menashe and then Ephraim. Joseph names Menashe saying, “God has made me completely forget the hardship of my father’s house.” He subsequently names Ephraim saying, “God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.” It seems, at first, as if the names tell a simple story: Joseph has recreated himself as a new man – powerful, revered, self-sufficient, and unencumbered by the traumatic memories of his own past. Joseph celebrates the blessings in his own life, and associates them with the complete break that he has made with his family, his past, his former self.
But both names, of course, are deeply paradoxical.
The name Menashe testifies to its own impossibility, by calling to mind precisely those suppressed memories that have supposedly been forgotten. It makes conscious and overt a process of denial that we usually think of as sustainable only if it remains unconscious and covert. The name Ephraim leaves us wondering about Joseph’s relationship to the land he now rules: Does it simply encapsulate his own remarkable journey in Egypt up to this point – a one-directional journey from affliction to abundance – or does it also betray another layer of awareness, destabilizing this sense of abundance by locating it in what is destined to become the land of affliction for his descendants, for us?
Joseph may have been tempted to tell his own story as one of glorious success born of forgetfulness, silence, and radical rupture with the past – but, whether consciously or not, in naming his children, he bears witness to a more complicated story. We are each called to our own journeys – but, in ways we can’t fully understand, we are also part of something larger, older, deeper, and more enduring than ourselves.
The Joseph story always falls on or around Chanukah, a holiday that also asks us to wrestle with questions of identity, assimilation, and belonging. Who are we, and whose are we? How much does our past – whether personal or communal – define us? When does forgetting set us free, and when does it exile us from ourselves? Who do we dream to be?
We live in a cultural context that is overly infatuated, I believe, with the dream of self-sufficiency. Perhaps in this season of darkness, the dreams and shadows of Joseph’s story can help illuminate other parts of ourselves, and shine a light on the complicated dance between longing and belonging in our own lives. In the words of the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai:
But the greatest desire of all Is to be in the dream of another To feel a light pull, like reins, To feel a heavy pull, like chains.
From Maggid Jhos Singer
This week’s parasha, Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), continues the amazing story of Joseph. We find him a few years into his imprisonment in the dungeon of Pharaoh’s palace. Earlier in his stay, he interprets the dreams of two fellow prisoners—Pharaoh’s baker and sommelier—as they await their fate. From their dreams he predicts, correctly, that the baker will be convicted and hanged, while the som will go free. Upon the wine steward’s release, Joseph assures him that while he did nothing but interpret what was already evident, if the som would be so kind as to mention his name, glowingly, to Pharaoh, he would be much obliged. As fate would have it, the wine steward is so preoccupied with vintages and varietals upon returning safely to work that he forgets all about the Hebrew prisoner with the remarkable acumen for dream interpretation.
Until Pharaoh has a spate of terrible dreams.
The sommelier finally makes good on his promise, and Pharaoh calls for Joseph.
“ …and they hurriedly brought him from the pit, and he shaved and he switched out of his clothes, and he came to Pharaoh.”
Joseph begins this verse as a prisoner (probably a smelly, dirty, and rattily-clad one at that) and a few words later is a clean shaven, well dressed, high-end consultant to the most powerful ruler in the land. It is a moment of radical and rapid transformation. The text engages us by both revealing him through shaving, and concealing him in clothing. A door literally opens and he is shuttled out of one reality straight into another, in the blink of an eye. Which can happen…
Joseph’s story reminds us that change is both slow and swift. It happens in obvious and hidden ways. It can strike like lightening after years of waiting. It moves imperceptibly, incrementally, day after day, until normal snaps and yields to something new. And that newness slowly fades to become familiar while a new current forms underneath, just waiting for the next moment when all the stars align and then—bam!— the cycle starts again.
And this is our story. We change every day of our lives. If all goes according to plan we shift, cell by cell, from zygote to embryo to fetus to infant to baby to toddler to child to youth to adolescent to adult to elder and then, finally, in one stunning moment, we transform utterly, into an unknowable mystery. As if we weren’t that all along.
Joseph, a true spiritual adept, is a change master. He accepts (actually, he seems to revel in) the tectonic shifts he experiences externally in situation, community, physique, status, power, and culture. I have to believe that he is able to do this with relative ease and comfort because on some deep level he knows—like in his kishkes knows—that in fact, at his core and at the core of all reality, there is a still, steady oneness that never changes at all. Even though the Torah has not yet revealed this truth to us (spoiler alert, it comes in Exodus), Joseph knows that Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh /I will be what I will be is the fundamental truth of the universe. Accepting that expansive sense of self and surroundings allows us a kind of freedom that human-designed society and systems cannot.
Shabbat is time to imagine the impossible, to open our hearts to the world in its perfect imperfection. It is a time to see beyond the dirt and rags, the pit and prison, so we are ready when the change erupts. This week of Hannukah we celebrate light and darkness, we honor the horror of a guerilla war and the genius of our rabbis who distilled from that history an imaginary vial of magical oil that has been burning ever since. We remember our ancestors and the many changes—genetic and geographic, philosophic and psychic—they both carried and catalyzed. And here we are, carrying the story forward, with its constant, amazing, miraculous flux.
May we find joy in our incessant unfolding. May we leap fearlessly into new adventures and return again to old loves; may we rise to unfathomable challenges and settle back into well-fitting truths; and may we never fear tomorrow, despite the harrowing rigors of today.
From Rabbi David Kasher
THE GREAT AWAKENING – Parshat Mikeitz
Two dreams. Two dreams. Two dreams.
Why does this keep happening?
We began Joseph’s story last week, and it opened with him recounting two of his dreams to his brothers. In one, they were in the field and his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowed down before his. In the next, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were all bowing down to him. He has eleven brothers, mind you.
Those brothers were not pleased with his dreams, to say the least. So they threw him in a pit, and left him to die.
Then Joseph is sold into slavery, and quickly winds up in prison. And there, again, is a telling of two dreams. This time it isn’t Joseph dreaming, but two of his prison-mates. But Joseph does offer his services as a dream interpreter, and his predictions for each of them – one good and one grim – come true. He asks the more fortunate prisoner to put in a good word when he gets out. But as soon as he’s released, he forgets Joseph. And that is where we left Joseph last week – rotting in prison.
This week’s parsha, Mikeitz, begins again with two dreams. This time it is Pharaoh who dreams, of seven skinny cows devouring seven fat cows on the banks of the Nile. He stirs awake, only to fall asleep again, and this time dreams of seven withered ears of corn, again – somehow – swallowing seven healthy ears of corn. And again he wakes up, clearly shaken by the strange images:
The next morning, his spirit was agitated. And he sent for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dream. But no one could interpret them for Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:8)
וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וַתִּפָּעֶם רוּחוֹ, וַיִּשְׁלַח וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-כָּל-חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם, וְאֶת-כָּל-חֲכָמֶיהָ; וַיְסַפֵּר פַּרְעֹה לָהֶם אֶת-חֲלֹמוֹ, וְאֵין-פּוֹתֵר אוֹתָם לְפַרְעֹה.
Finally, the former prisoner – now royal cupbearer – remembers Joseph and mentions him to Pharaoh. Joseph is summoned “from out of the pit,” and brought before Pharaoh, who repeats the two dreams.
And then things start moving very quickly.
Two things happen right away. First, Joseph immediately tells Pharaoh that his dream is a message from God. Seven years of plenty are about to begin, he says, but they will be followed by seven years of famine. Take care to start saving now, while things are good, in order to prepare for hard times ahead.
The other thing that happens is that Pharaoh immediately believes Joseph. In fact, he’s so pleased with the interpretation that he summarily appoints Joseph his right-hand man.
What’s going on here? First of all, how does Joseph know this is a divine message, and how does he know exactly what to do with it? Perhaps we can assume he’s tapped into some kind semi-prophetic power. After all, he’s been right before.
More perplexing, though, is how Pharaoh knows instantly that he’s hearing the truth. After all the wisest men in Egypt have disappointed him, this young Hebrew prisoner shows up, rattles off a 14-year plan for the country, and Pharaoh is all in. What convinced him so quickly?
Some commentators have suggested that Pharaoh already knew the answers Joseph gave, that he’d heard them in the dream as well, and was just testing people, waiting for the right man to show up.
But if he already knew what to do, why did he need Joseph? And why was his “spirit agitated”? Something was troubling him. Something was missing. And yet… he knew enough to know when the interpretations he heard were wrong.
The solution I find most convincing is given by both the Abarbanel, considered one of the last of the great medieval commentators (Portugal, 1437–1508), and the Seforno, one of the first great renaissance commentators (Italy, 1475-1550) . They focus on the very first thing Joseph says to Pharaoh:
“Pharaoh’s dream is one.” (Genesis 41:25)
חֲלוֹם פַּרְעֹה אֶחָד הוּא
What does this mean? It seems explicit that Pharaoh had two dreams. That’s exactly the point, says the Seforno:
Pharaoh saw that everyone thought they were two dreams, and interpreted them as two separate things. But he recognized that they were one dream, as he said, “I saw in my dream.” [But Joseph said]: “Pharaoh’s dream is one,” and therefore the other interpreters have made a mistake.
שֶׁרָאָה שֶׁכֻּלָּם חָשְׁבוּ שֶׁהֵם שְׁנֵי חֲלומות, וּפָתְרוּ אותָם עַל שְׁנֵי דְּבָרִים, וְהוּא הִכִּיר שֶׁשְּׁנֵיהֶם הָיוּ חֲלום אֶחָד, כְּאָמְרו “וָאֵרֶא בַּחֲלמִי” (פסוק כב). חֲלום פַּרְעה אֶחָד הוּא. וּלְפִיכָךְ טָעוּ הַפּותְרִים.
So the critical thing is not the content of Joseph’s interpretation, but the fact that he understood that what looked like two dreams was really one. And Pharaoh himself had a sense that this was true, that it was all a part of one dream. But he couldn’t explain why.
In fact, the text of the Torah itself tips us off to this understanding right from the start. Just after Pharoah’s night of dreaming, we read:
And Pharaoh awoke – it was a dream! (Gen. 41:7)
וַיִּיקַץ פַּרְעֹה, וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם.
Not “dreams,” but “a dream.” Now, if we look carefully through the rest of the narrative, we see a consistent discrepancy between Pharaoh’s and Joseph’s understandings and everyone else’s. Here is the Abarbanel, taking us through, phrase by phrase:
You will see, that the verses sometimes call them ‘dreams,’ in the plural, as its says, “And he dreamed a second time” (41:5), and “There was no no one to interpret them for Pharaoh” (41:47). And sometimes the two are called one, as it says, “And Pharaoh awoke – it was a dream!” (41:7); “And Pharaoh told them his dream“ (41:8); “And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have dreamed a dream’” (41:15); “In my dream I was standing…” (41:17); “I saw in my dream…” (41:22) Therefore, I think that Pharaoh himself felt that everything was one dream, which is why he always spoke of it in the singular. But the interpreters thought they were two separate dreams.
ואתה תראה שהכתוב פעם קורא החלומות האלה בלשון רבים כמ”ש ויחלום שנית ואומר ואין פותר אותם לפרעה ופעם קורא שניהם חלום אחד כמ“ש ויקץ פרעה והנה חלום ויספר פרעה להם את תלומו ויאמר פרעה אל יוסף חלום חלמתי. בחלומי הנני עומד וגו’ וארא בחלומי וגו’ לכן אשוב שפרעה הרגיש בעצמו שהי’ הכל חלום אחד ולכן היה מכנה אותו תמיד בלשון יחיד אמנם הפותרים חשבו שיהיו שני חלומות.
It’s uncanny, actually, if we look back – Pharaoh has been saying all along that it was one dream, not two. And no one listened. Until Joseph came along. And the very first thing he says is, “Pharaoh’s dream is one.” At that moment, Pharaoh knows he has someone he can trust.
What neither the Abarbanel nor the Seforno mention, however, is exactly how Joseph knew that Pharaoh’s dreams were one. Perhaps he picks up on Pharaoh’s language. Perhaps the two dreams just seem related to him. Or perhaps it’s just divine intuition.
All of these things may be true. But there’s a reason that Joseph, of all people, is the one who gets it right.
Because Joseph also dreamed two dreams that were really one dream.
Joseph’s dream about the sheaves of grain bowing down to him, and his dream about the stars bowing down to him, are really just two versions of the same dream. They mean the same thing: that his brothers will regard him as their leader and submit before him. He knew it, and they knew it.
And then, Joseph also knows what it’s like to hear two dreams that are not the same. The two dreams he heard while he was in prison were both dreamed on the same night, by two men in the same situation, and had all kinds of striking similarities. He might have suggested that they meant the same thing. But he gave each prisoner a very different interpretation – and he was right.
So has now seen firsthand the difference between two dreams that are really one dream, and two dreams that require distinct, separate explanations.
In other words, Joseph is perfectly positioned to tell Pharaoh exactly what he needs to hear. Joseph has been prepared for this moment by forces beyond him, guiding him. This is why he has kept running into pairs of dreams. It feels as if this has all been plotted out from the start.
With this in mind, one wonders if this moment, when Joseph tells Pharaoh his dream “is one,” is as much a revelation to Joseph as it is to Pharaoh. Because look at what Joseph says next, in that same verse:
“Pharaoh’s dream is one – God has told Pharaoh what he is about to do.”
חֲלוֹם פַּרְעֹה אֶחָד הוּא: אֵת אֲשֶׁר הָאֱלֹקים עֹשֶׂה, הִגִּיד לְפַרְעֹה.
This is more than just a dream interpretation. This is a moment of realization – perhaps the first for Joseph – that God has been orchestrating this story all along. Pharaoh’s dream is one, he thinks to himself. My dreams were one. It’s all been a part of one grand plan. I see that now. All of my foolishness. All of my suffering. It has all brought me to this moment.
“As for the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and that God is now rushing to carry it out.” (Gen. 41:32)
וְעַל הִשָּׁנוֹת הַחֲלוֹם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, פַּעֲמָיִם–כִּי-נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר מֵעִם הָאֱלֹקים, וּמְמַהֵר הָאֱלֹקים לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.
Now it begins. Now everything will start to move very quickly. The workings of God are at hand.
This was the moment that Joseph’s understanding of the world changed. From now on, he will operate with a kind of divine certainty. He takes control of Egypt, he acts swiftly, and he restructures their whole society, eventually becoming, “ruler of all the earth, and provider for every nation.”
And it is not just his behavior which has changed. It is his perspective. Listen to how he reflects on his life, after he finally reconciles with his brothers, and they realize, in horror, the consequences of what they did to him all those many years ago:
Now do not be distressed or blame yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you… God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives, in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; it is He who has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:5-8)
ה וְעַתָּה אַל-תֵּעָצְבוּ, וְאַל-יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם, כִּי-מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי, הֵנָּה: כִּי לְמִחְיָה, שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹקים לִפְנֵיכֶם… ז וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי אֱלֹקים לִפְנֵיכֶם, לָשׂוּם לָכֶם שְׁאֵרִית בָּאָרֶץ, וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לָכֶם, לִפְלֵיטָה גְּדֹלָה. ח וְעַתָּה, לֹא-אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה, כִּי, הָאֱלֹקים; וַיְשִׂימֵנִי לְאָב לְפַרְעֹה, וּלְאָדוֹן לְכָל-בֵּיתוֹ, וּמֹשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
Joseph has learned to see God working in everything. And I suspect he learned that, fully and finally, the moment he heard Pharaoh’s dream, and saw in it a reflection of his own dream.
The great chassidic commentary, the Sfat Emet, of 19th century Poland, sees a similar realization hinted at in the first words of Joseph’s interpretation:
“The dream is one” – It seems he has learned from this that all of his service to God comes from a place of Oneness.
חלום אחד הוא. נראה שיש ללמוד ממנו לעבודתו ית’ שהוא ממקום האחדות
Two dreams. Two dreams. Two dreams.
But there were never two dreams. There was only ever one dream.
Pharaoh’s dream is one. Joseph’s dreams were one. Joseph’s whole life, which always seemed so fractured and torn apart, was really all part of one great unity.
Now he sees – everything is One.
ביום ההוא יהיה ה׳ אחד ושמו אחד
From My Jewish Learning
Connecting With Others
Prayers can help repair the world.
BY GUY IZHAK AUSTRIAN
Commentary on Parashat Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
We usually think of prayer as a way of connecting to God. But this week’s Torah portion suggests that prayer can also help us connect with other people and open the way toward tikkun — repairing brokenness in our world.
Parashat Miketz describes the slow, agonizing process of Joseph’s reunification with his brothers, who have come down to Egypt to plead for food. The Torah tells us: “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” The relationship between them, long broken since their bitter childhood, cannot be repaired so quickly. Joseph chooses not to reveal himself, taunting and testing his brothers and maintaining their estrangement.
Only when Benjamin, Joseph’s youngest and only full sibling, arrives in Egypt, is Joseph confronted with a deeper recognition of brotherhood. Choking up, he utters a short prayer of blessing:
“May God be gracious to you, my boy.” With that, Joseph hurried out, for his compassionate feelings grew hot toward his brother, and he needed to cry; he went into a room and he cried there (vayevk). Then he washed his face and returned; restraining himself, he gave the order [to his servants]: “Put out bread.” They served him by himself, and them by themselves…
The encounter with Benjamin stirs Joseph’s compassion, but the short prayer cracks it open. Suddenly he feels the pain of disconnectedness from his family and is able to empathize with his brothers’ hunger and powerlessness. And yet, Joseph hides his cries. Determined to maintain his distance and power, he stifles his own emotions and offers only a terse order to give bread. He cannot and will not sit and eat with his brothers. How familiar is this feeling to those of us who see suffering or poverty and yet hold our full selves back from such an encounter, content instead merely to give a bit of tzedakah!
And yet: “vayevk–and he cried.” This powerful word reappears at two crucial junctures in the next parashah. The first comes when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. He allows his emotions to break free; he still tries to hide his cries, but the Egyptians outside the room hear him sobbing. The second comes when Joseph reunites with his father Jacob, apparently in full view of many others. At this moment of reconciliation, the process of recognition and reunification reaches its fulfillment.
A 19th-century Hasidic text, The Well of Living Waters, illuminates how prayer can be a model for tikkun olam. Commenting on the verse in which Joseph begins to recognize his brothers, it cites a teaching by Rabbi Isaac Luria, one of the founders of 16th-century Kabbalah. Luria explains why the central prayer of Judaism, the Amidah, must first be said silently, before being repeated out loud:
So it is in the way of holiness: it both disappears and is revealed. And in a place that requires full repair (tikkun) and unification (yichud), at first the unification needs to be in secret… But afterward, when the unification has been effected quietly, then one is able to raise one’s voice and to effect the unification, revealed to the eyes of all.
Unlocking the Divine Light
Luria, a mystic, believed that prayer (like other mitzvot) unlocks the Divine light in our broken world and reunites it with its Divine Source. The author of The Well of Living Waters argues that just as the Amidah must begin silently and then become loud in order to achieve tikkun, so too Joseph’s recognition of his brothers must unfold gradually, from hidden and stifled to public and open. As this recognition grows, so does its expression in Joseph’s cries, until full tikkun and yichud—repair and reunification—are achieved.
We can learn from the tikkun in Joseph’s relationship with his family that sometimes the commitment to pursue justice also needs to unfold within us in stages. Justice is—or would be—the ultimate result of a full recognition of our common humanity with others, and thus, our responsibility for others. That recognition often begins quietly within our consciousness: stirred by an encounter with another person, it may then be unlocked or revealed to us through prayer. Unsettled, we may seek to stifle this growing knowledge because of its profound implications. Some time may pass before our changes in consciousness lead to changes in our outward behavior.
Yet we are obligated to emerge eventually from our silence; to cry out against injustice, and take action. Just as the public repetition of the Amidah must follow its silent recitation, external advocacy and action are the necessary consequences of our internal awakening. Our actions can then lead to the repair of brokenness, to the release of hidden Divine light and to a closer unity between this world and its Divine ideal.
Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Month of dreams
Joseph the bridge person —
between patriarchs and tribes,
he harvests events
He has become
I don’t interpret dreams —
he says, G*d does,
Still, his gift gives him power.
I remember dreams,
That he dreams at all
means he’s sleeping well
The rest of us fidgeting in bed
Joseph part prophet
Dreaming 1/60th of prophecy
the need for prophecy
A HOUSE OF FORGETTING – Parshat Mikeitz
Parshat Mikeitz, the story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt, is almost always read during Chanukah. And so inevitably, every year, there are a slew of valiant rabbinic attempts to link the figure of Joseph to the themes of Chanukah. So we are told that it is Joseph’s faith, or his wisdom, or even his beauty, that is somehow echoed, centuries later, by the heroes of the Chanukah story.
And yet, in some respects, Joseph is a less than ideal representative of this holiday. For if Chanukah is about the preservation of Jewish identity from the influences of a powerful foreign culture, then it becomes somewhat problematic to remember that Joseph is probably the most successfully assimilated character in the Book of Genesis.
It is true that Joseph begins his time in Egypt as an outsider – first a bondsman whose masters refer to him as “that Hebrew slave,” and then a prisoner who laments having been “kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews.” When he finds himself in front of the royal court, however, and manages to impress the Pharaoh with his dream interpretations, he is swiftly recruited directly into the Egyptian hierarchy – and his transformation is immediate and profound. He is dressed in Egyptian fineries and placed in the royal chariot, paraded around for all of Egypt to behold. He is married off to an Egyptian woman – the daughter of a foreign priest, no less. He is even given a new name, Tzafnat Paneach – which is noted by the commentators for its distinctly non-Hebraic sound. Joseph is, by all outward appearances, fully Egyptianized.
More striking, however, is the expression Joseph gives to his inner desire to leave his old identity behind. When he and his wife have a son, he names the boy, ‘Menashe,’ a word whose root, נשה, can mean ‘forgetting.’ And Joseph does not leave this connotation hidden:
Joseph named the first-born Menashe, “Because God has made me forget completely all of my toils, and my father’s house.” (Gen. 41:51)
וַיִּקְרָא יוֹסֵף אֶת-שֵׁם הַבְּכוֹר, מְנַשֶּׁה: כִּי-נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹקים אֶת-כָּל-עֲמָלִי, וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית אָבִי
It is not just his sorrow that Joseph is forgetting, but the entire world he came from – his “father’s house.” And he seems to be praising the God that has purged his memory of his family of origin. The commentators are shocked at this sentiment of active abandonment. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) gives elegant voice to their bewilderment:
Whose heart does not turn within him at this thought? Joseph calls his firstborn after the fact that God allowed him to forget his old father and all his family. That certainly would solve the question in the easiest manner as to why Joseph had not bothered about his father for such a long time. Simply because Joseph had no heart.
Could it be that Joseph wanted to be Egyptian? Could it be that he deliberately cut off all ties with his family?
But then, why not? What kind of family ties did he have, anyway? His brothers tried to kill him, only changing plans when they realized they could make money by selling him instead. His father, for all he knows, may have been complicit in the plot. His beloved mother was dead, buried on the side of the road. What was left for him back there?
Now, suddenly, Joseph is given the opportunity to start over, to become someone new, someone with power and wealth, who could command respect and praise wherever he went. Surely, this must have been an alluring prospect.
So when his brothers one day show up in his court, to beg for food along with all the other starving travelers, their presence threatens to pull him back into the past. Is it any wonder that he does not want them to recognize him?
And they do not, to the astonishment of the commentators. How can they fail to identify their brother Joseph? The 13th-century French commentator, the Hizkuni, credits all the external changes that Joseph has undergone:
They did not recognize him – because he had a beard, and his name was changed to Tzafnat Paneach, and he spoke in the Egyptian language…
והם לא הכרהו – שהיה בחתימת זקן ושמו נשתנה לצפנת פענח ומדבר לשון מצרית
Joseph was disguised so well, in other words, that he passed. Even his brothers were fooled by his outward appearance. But Rashi imputes a deeper kind of hiding to Joseph:
He made himself a foreigner to them, in the way he spoke to them.
נעשה להם כנכרי בדברים
It is not just that Joseph had the trappings of an Egyptian. He was an Egyptian. He wanted to be. He had left behind the lowly Hebrew slave he had been, and all the pain that he had carried. He was now Tzafnat Paneach, the Grand Vizier of Egypt, who held in his hands the power of life and death. He had fully assimilated himself.
If that is so, then Joseph does turn out to be a fitting character to study during Chanukah. But not because he models the values of Jewish pride and distinctiveness. Rather, Joseph is a Chanukah anti-hero, a study in the desire to leave Jewishness behind and fully embrace the seductive charms of a foreign culture.
In fact, Joseph takes Chanukah a step further. For we read in the Chanukah prayers that:
The wicked Greek Kingdom arose against you, the Nation of Israel, to force you to forget your Torah.
כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהשַׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתָךְ
In the Chanukah story, there was an active and official attempt to cause a national forgetting of cultural heritage. But Joseph tried to forget the Torah on his own, as the Midrash records:
Rabbi Yochanan said that [Jacob] retained all of his learning, but Joseph forgot his. (Gen. Rabbah 79:5)
ר’ יוחנן אמר: שלם בתלמודו, אבל יוסף שכח
He sought out forgetting, and was grateful for it. He did not need to be purged of the Torah. He simply let it go.
Rabbeinu Bachya, commenting on Joseph’s strange naming of his first-born in praise of his forgetting, gives us some powerful psychological context. He notes that:
This is why The Sages referred to joining the house of one’s in-laws as “A House of Forgetting.” That is why the verse (in Genesis 2) says, “A man leaves his father and his mother, and clings to his wife,” and so too, a wife to her husband.
מזה קורין ז“ל בית אביה של אשה בי נשא כלומר בית השכחה, על שם הכתוב (בראשית ב) על כן יעזב איש את אביו ואת אמו ודבק באשתו, וכן האשה בבעלה
Every new beginning requires a kind of forgetting. Every building of a new household means leaving an old one behind, and in that sense, every house is a House of Forgetting. But for Joseph, all of Egypt was a Great House of Forgetting – and he would forget not only his old house, but also his old self.
Next week, we will read of how Joseph returns to remembering. He will reclaim his family, his name, and his Hebrew identity. But for now, during this Chanukah reading, we remain in the darkness of forgetting. The story of Joseph is a Chanukah story, but not necessarily the one we want. For it reminds us that for all the external forces that seek to annihilate us, the greatest threat to our existence is our own desire to forget who we are.
From Rav Kook
Mikeitz: Interpreting Dreams
The Sages made a remarkable claim regarding dreams and their interpretation: “Dreams are fulfilled according to the interpretation” (Berachot 55b). The interpreter has a key function in the realization of a dream: his analysis can determine how the dream will come to pass. The Talmud substantiated this statement with the words of the chief wine-butler:
“Just as he interpreted, so [my dream] came to be” (Gen. 41:13).
Do dreams foretell the future? Does the interpreter really have the power to determine the meaning of a dream and alter the future accordingly?
The Purpose of Dreams
Clearly, not all of our dreams are prophetic. Originally, in humanity’s pristine state, every dream was a true dream. But with the fall of Adam, mankind left the path of integrity. Our minds became filled with wanton desires and pointless thoughts, and our dreams became more chaff than truth.
Why did God give us the ability to dream? A true dream is a wake- up call, warning us to correct our life’s direction. Our eyes are opened to a vivid vision of our future, should we not take heed to mend our ways.
To properly understand the function of dreams, we must first delve into the inner workings of divine providence in the world. How are we punished or rewarded in accordance to our actions?
The Zohar (Bo 33a) gives the following explanation for the mechanics of providence. The soul has an inner quality that naturally brings about those situations and events that correspond to our moral level. Should we change our ways, this inner quality will reflect that change, and will lead us towards a different set of circumstances.
Dreams are part of this system of providence. They are one of the methods utilized by the soul’s inner quality to bring about the appropriate outcome.
The Function of the Intepreter
But the true power of a dream is only realized once it has been interpreted. The interpretation intensifies the dream’s impact. As the Sages taught, “A dream not interpreted is like a letter left unread” (Berachot 55b). When a dream is explained, its images become more intense and vivid. The impact on the soul is stronger, and the dreamer is more primed for the consequential outcome.
Of course, the interpreter must be insightful and perceptive. He needs to penetrate the inner message of the dream and detect the potential influences of the soul’s inner qualities that are reflected in the dream.
All souls contain a mixture of good and bad traits. A dream is the nascent development of the soul’s hidden traits, as they are beginning to be realized. A single dream may contain multiple meanings, since it reflects contradictory qualities within the soul.
When the interpreter gives a positive interpretation to a dream, he helps develop and realize positive traits hidden in the soul of the dreamer. A negative interpretation, on the other hand, will promote negative traits. As the Zohar (Mikeitz 199b) admonishes:
“A good dream should be kept in mind and not forgotten, so that it will be fulfilled…. Therefore Joseph mentioned his dream [to his family], so that it would come to pass. He would always anticipate its fulfillment.”
It is even possible to interpret multiple aspects of a dream, all of which are potentially true. Even if they are contradictory, all may still be realized. Rabbi Bena’a related that, in his days, there were 24 dream-interpreters in Jerusalem. “Once I had a dream,” he said, “and I went to all of them. No two interpretations were the same, but they all came to pass” (Berachot 55b).
Dreams of the Nation
These concepts are also valid on the national level. Deliverance of the Jewish people often takes place through the medium of dreams. Both Joseph and Daniel achieved power and influence through the dreams of gentile rulers. The Jewish people have a hidden inner potential for greatness and leadership. As long as this quality is unrealized, it naturally tries to bring about its own fulfillment – sometimes, by way of dreams.
When a person is brought before the Heavenly court, he is questioned, “Did you yearn for redemption?” (Shabbat 31a). Why is this important?
By anticipating and praying for the redemption, we help develop the inner quality of the nation’s soul, thus furthering its advance and the actualization of its destined mission.
(Gold from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 222- 227)
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Miketz and Chanukah: letting your light shine
Here’s the d’var Torah I offered at my shul this morning.
The first thing Joseph does, when summoned from Pharaoh’s dungeon, is shave and change his clothes. Presumably he does this because it’s not appropriate to appear before the ruler of the land in rags… but given the importance of clothing in the Joseph story, I see something deeper.
Remember his coat of many colors. Remember the garment which he relinquished to Potiphar’s wife in escaping from her clutches. Remember Tamar, who disguises herself in a cloak in order to orchestrate justice. Clothing in this story is symbolic of internal reality.
As a child I learned from my mother that how we dress gives us an opportunity to show respect for others. We dress nicely because that’s a way of showing the people we meet that they matter. Surely that’s part of what Joseph is doing at this moment in his story.
I also learned from my mother that how we dress can impact how we feel inside. When I’m not feeling great, sometimes brushing my hair and putting on lipstick can help me perk up and feel ready to face the world. That may have been part of what Joseph was doing, too.
And another thing he may have been doing is adjusting his outer appearance so that it matches what he knows about himself inside. A number of Hasidic teachers speak about the tension between pnimiut, what’s hidden deep inside, and chitzoniut, the external face one presents to the world. We each carry a divine spark inside. That spark connects us with the Holy One of Blessing.
That spark is the source of our light; as we read in psalms, “the soul of a person is the candle of God.” As we kindle candles, God kindles souls. If we’re willing to be kindled, we can carry divine light into the world. But we each get to choose whether and how to reveal that light.
For me, one of the challenges of spiritual life is trying to ensure that my external face matches my internal light. Deep down, I’m always connected with God. But can I manifest that reality in the face I show to the world? Am I willing to risk letting my inner light shine?
Because it does feel like a risk sometimes. This world doesn’t always reward those who let their light shine. I could be laughed at. I could be sneered at. I could be told that I am delusional, or naive. Someone could lash out at me because they don’t like my light.
One of the primary mitzvot of Chanukah is pirsumei nes, publicizing the miracle. This is the origin of the custom of putting a chanukiyah in the window or in a public place — because we’re not supposed to keep it hidden, we’re supposed to let the light of Chanukah shine.
As we’re supposed to let the light of our souls shine. Whatever clothing we wear, whatever persona we adopt, it’s our job in this world to be human candles. To shed light in the darkness, wherever we go.
When do you feel most able to let the light of your soul shine through?
Who are the people who help you cultivate that feeling?
Where are the places, what are the practices, which help you shine the most?
This Chanukah, will you rededicate yourself to letting your light shine?
Miketz-Hanukkah byte: ( the letters ‘shin, bet, reish,’ mentioned so often in the parsha, usually meaning food, can also have two opposite meanings: Shever, broken, and Sever, hope; it all depends on where you put the dot- let the Hanukkah lights help shift your focus and
perspective. Chag Sameach!
From American Jewish World Service
Parashat Miketz continues the narrative of Joseph and his brothers. It describes Joseph’s ascent to power, the trust he earns from Pharaoh and his power as a minister over all of Egypt. It also mentions, in passing, a woman whose life becomes entwined with Joseph’s: Osnat, daughter of the Priest of Ohn. Osnat receives a bare four sentences, and is never again mentioned in the Tanach. Who is she, and what can we learn from her presence in the text?
At first glance, she seems heavily disempowered. She is mentioned in the Torah only because Pharaoh gives her as a wife to Joseph. The text reads: “[Pharaoh] had him [Joseph] dressed in fine clothing and placed a gold chain around his neck…and he gave him Osnat, daughter of Poti-phera, priest of Ohn, as a wife.”1 It seems like Osnat is not much more than a possession Pharaoh uses to demonstrate Joseph’s changed status, comparable to jewelry and fine clothing.
When the rabbis explore her background, they paint a picture of a history of further disempowerment. They write that she is not just any Egyptian woman, but related in a tragic way to Jacob himself.2 According to the rabbis, Osnat is the daughter of Dina, daughter of Jacob. Remember Dina? Her rape at the hands of Shchem, and her brothers’ subsequent violent destruction of the city, represents the essence of total disempowerment.
At second glance, however, there is more to the story. Unlike many female characters in the Bible, Osnat has a name. Being identified by name humanizes her in the text. Osnat’s character becomes yet more rich and complex when we consider another midrash about her in which the rabbis suggest she is more righteous than Joseph. When it comes time for Jacob, the grandfather, to bless Joseph’s sons, according to rabbinic interpretation, he is only convinced to do so by Osnat’s presence.3 How could Osnat, who began our story in such a disempowered state, become so powerfully righteous?
Maybe the rabbis are suggesting that Osnat, having grown up the child of Dina and knowing of Dina’s rape, gained extra resilience in her own life that enabled her to reclaim her humanity. Maybe they mean to imply that Osnat, learning from the past and from her mother’s story, was strong enough to fight against her own disempowerment, strong enough to claim a name for herself. And maybe this strength is what the rabbis notice when they credit her as being even more righteous than Joseph.
Tragically, many girls in countries across the world today face circumstances similar to that of Osnat. Every year, about 10 million girls become child brides, and one in seven girls in the developing world is married before the age of 15.4 Child marriage makes girls vulnerable to high levels of illiteracy, poverty and gender based violence. Additionally, they are more likely to die in childbirth or experience the death of their babies and children. Specifically, girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than those in their 20s. And girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later.5
We, as a global society, need to support girls and young women as they face these challenges and empower them to overcome them. Organizations like Awaaz-e-Niswaan (AEN), in Mumbai, India, are working to promote the rights of girls and reduce the incidence of forced teenage marriage. To help girls escape the cycle of poverty and violence, AEN provides girls with a haven where they can meet peers and learn to understand and defend their rights. Those who refuse arranged marriages or want to leave violent situations can get legal support and assistance from AEN, which helps them negotiate with their families and file reports with the police. AEN also provides girls with college scholarships, vocational training and assistance in finding jobs. This support helps them gain financial independence and enables them to have greater choice in whom they marry.6
In this week’s parashah, Osnat embodies transformation. She moves past the disempowerment of her mother’s violent rape and her own forced marriage to make a name for herself and ensure the blessing of her sons. We can all follow Osnat’s example by transforming the global treatment of girls and women. AJWS will soon be launching a campaign to end violence against women and girls, stop hate crimes against LGBT people and hasten the end of child marriage around the globe. Please stay tuned for more information about joining that campaign in the coming weeks.
May we all merit to draw lessons from the righteous in our society, those who are often disempowered and traded as objects, and may we support them as they find for themselves the resilience to survive and fight for their empowerment.
1 Breishit 41:42.
2 Midrash Aggadah Breishit, Parashat Miketz, Chapter 41.
3 Pesikta Rabati Piska 3 — On the 8th Day.
4 Mark Tran, “Child marriage campaigners in south Asia receive $23m cash injection,” The Guardian, 23 August 2013. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/aug/23/child-marriage-india-bangladesh-nepal.
5 “Child Marriage Facts and Figures,” International Center for Research on Women, 2012. Available at http://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures.
6 Leah Kaplan Robins and Sasha Feldstein, “A Call Against Violence Heard Around the World,” AJWS Reports, 2013, p. 8. Available at http://ajws.org/who_we_are/publications/ajws_reports/2013.pdf.
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From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Paradox of Free Will (5774/2013)
Pharaoh dreams: seven gaunt cows eat seven healthy cows; seven withered sheaves of grain swallow seven robust sheaves. Yosef interprets the dream: seven years of famine will follow seven years of abundant harvest. God has set a process in motion, says Yosef, and shown you a glimpse of what is to come. Now you must find, do, appoint and gather, so that your people will have food.
Here, free will and determinism are comfortably balanced: Human beings cannot control the forces of nature, but we can decide how to respond.
Yosef is appointed minister of food distribution. One day his eleven older brothers travel to Egypt seeking an audience with the minister. They do not realize the powerful minister is Yosef, the brother they sold into slavery years earlier. As they enter, they bow, faces to the ground. Twenty years earlier, when Yosef had dreamed that eleven stars bowed down to him, his brothers, recognizing themselves in the stars, had ridiculed and bullied him.
Here, determinism trumps free will: each human being has a destiny, and every apparently free choice only realizes the destiny.
Parshat Miketz lays out the paradox. On the one hand, natural processes are mostly reliable, and summarized in scientific laws. The consequences of human actions are inevitable. On the other hand, we weigh options, make decisions, and fix mistakes. As Rabbi Akiva says in Pirkei Avot, “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given” (3:19).
How can we hold this paradox? Some teachers suggest we understand it as a glimpse into the Divine mind or, in contemporary language, expanded consciousness. We can see our lives from multiple perspectives. A shift in perspective can feel like a gift of Divine grace, opening into freedom, comfort, and greater possibility.
May you receive such gifts this Hanukkah.
From The Maqam Project
From Rabbi David Ingber
Hiding in Order to be Seen
Torah Reading for Week of December 9-15, 2012
“What’s in a Name?”
By Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe, ‘09
Miketz ends, moments before Tsafnat Paneiach, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to be Yosef, the brother who was sold into slavery and assumed lost. As Yosef diverts his brothers, hiding from them and stringing them along, our commentators teach that throughout, Yosef was connected to haShem’s overall plan – that this reunification ultimately, was meant to be – and that Ya’akov and his family were destined to move to Egypt, and the Jewish people into exile. All of this dissembling by Tsafanat Paneiach is somehow inevitable. But let us consider Yosef – in stark contrast to his ancestors, he was a young man when he was handed authority – having led a life of transition and unexpected circumstances, prior to his ascension to power and the assumption of his exile name. He owes his freedom and the recovery of his name to the direct intervention of Pharaoh, the greatest ruler in the Ancient Near East. As much as he may possess ruach Elohim, Yosef is constantly adjusting to change and his circumstances. He may possess deep insight and even vision, but he too must react to life – in his life, he must sort out what he has the ability to change and what for him can never be altered and how circumstances can change, instantly.
Pharaoh is the agent to deliver haShem’s plan, in this moment. Our sages teach that the only difference between exile and redemption is the revelation of the shechinah — all of the exiles and troubles that we endure have an aspect of hester panim, the concealment of G-d’s Presence. Once we notice the light within our hardship, our hardship can instantaneously dissipate and the shell in which we cloak ourselves, can then fall away.
Like Yosef, we are often, in times of flux or unexpected circumstance, perhaps crafting or caught in a situation beyond our control. Frequently we find ourselves in situations not of our own making or having to balance between time commitments, obligations or even the lesser of two evils. To who are we loyal? To what are we loyal? How do we shift responsibility, or sidestep blame? What deserves our attention and our time? How do we keep focused on what matters most to us? The odd maneuvering that Yosef displays with his brothers are his attempts to find control in his life. He is struggling with this new reality (his brothers appear in Mitzrayim to buy food in a time of famine) and he is trying to come to terms with his conflicting emotions, doubts, insecurities, fears and anger. As we celebrate this Festival of Dedication (Hanukah), may we echo the actions of G-d who dared to bring a world into being, declaring, “Let there be light!” Let us too, promote life and act godly when we declare, “Let there be light in our world that contains so much darkness—the darkness of suffering, of loneliness, of pain. May the light of our goodness dispel even a little of the darkness, and may our true names shine forth from the dark chambers of delay and evasion.”
UNRECOGNIZABLE (MIKETZ) 2008
When Pharaoh placed his signet
on my hand, dressed me in gold
and cloaked me in new syllables
I became unrecognizable
even to my own brothers
who prostrated before me.
All these years I’d imagined
reunion, though in my wildest dreams
I never pictured it like this
how my brothers tore into dinner
as though they feared deep down
there wouldn’t be enough…
I turned away and wept
but I hid my sorrow, not ready
to show my true face
or how I had yearned
for the relationship we still
didn’t know how to have.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Brokenness and hope: in this week’s Torah portion and in our lives
This week we’re in parashat Miketz, continuing the Joseph story. I want to share a couple of beautiful teachings which I learned from the writings of Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank, may his memory be a blessing. (This teaching can be found in his Meta-parshiot commentary from 5757.) Genesis 42:1 reads: וַיַּרְא יַעֲקֹב, כִּי יֶשׁ-שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְבָנָיו, לָמָּה תִּתְרָאוּ. / — “Now Jacob saw that there were rations in Egypt…”
The word translated here as “rations” (some translations say “corn”) is שבר. With the dot on the upper-right of the ש, the word is shever, “rations.” (R’ Wolfe-Blank explains that the word “rations” means “distribution of food” — in that sense it speaks to a kind of brokenness, e.g. a small quantity of food broken into many pieces.) It’s also a homonym for another word (pronounced the same way) which means “destruction.” But with the dot on the upper-left of the ש, the word is sever, “hope.” Since the Torah scroll is written without dots or diacritical markings, one can creatively misread the word so that what Jacob is finding in Egypt is hope. (Though our tradition holds that the word is indeed shever, reading it creatively as sever is a classical midrashic technique for drawing new meaning out of the same letters.)
“Jacob saw that there was שבר in Egypt.”
There was shever [brokenness] – that is the famine;
there was sever [hope] – that is the plenty.
There was shever [brokenness] – “Joseph was taken down to Egypt;”
there was sever [hope] – “Joseph became the ruler.” (42:6)
There was shever [brokenness] – “They shall enslave and afflict them;”
there was sever [hope] – “In the end they shall go free with great wealth.” (15:14)
(– Bereshit Rabbah 25:1, quoted in The Beginning of Desire, Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, p. 301.)
Jacob, writes R’ Wolfe-Blank, is having a simultaneous vision of hope and of brokenness. He sees that in Mitzrayim, the children of Israel will be made into slaves — and yet he sees that in emerging from Mitzrayim, the children of Israel will become a great nation. “Without a crisis, without ‘going down to Egypt,’ hope cannot arise.”
This is the message of the Joseph story writ large: sometimes descent is necessary in order for ascent to be possible. Joseph had to be thrown into a pit in order to be rescued; had to be sold into slavery in order to rise up in Egypt; had to be thrown in Pharaoh’s prison in order to be in a position to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and achieve the power which would enable him to save the lives of all Egypt and of his own home community as well.
And in our lives, too. Sometimes you have to go through something hard in order to be able to get to something sweet. A woman at the end of pregnancy has to endure labor and birth before her child can be born. New parents have to endure weeks of sleeplessness and exhaustion before their child even learns to smile. Relationships go through tough times, and the only way out is through — but if you trust that something better is coming on the other side, then the dark moments become bearable, because they’re the path toward new light.
“This is reflected in the lights of Hanuka,” writes R’ Wolfe-Blank, “where we live through the darkest part of the year and light the wicks of hopefulness.” As we light our Chanukkah candles tonight, may we be blessed with a vision which transforms any brokenness in our present lives into the wholeness which is coming. Chag urim sameach (a joyous festival of lights) and Shabbat shalom!
Torah Reading for Week of November 28 – December 4, 2010
“Interpreting Dreams and the Meanings of Our Lives”
by Elihu Gevirtz, AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinic Student
The Torah tells us in Paresha Miketz that Pharaoh dreamed two dreams, and the next morning “his spirit was agitated” for he ached, knowing that the dreams held a message that he did not understand. He sent for all of the magicians and all of the wise men in Egypt, but none could interpret them. Joseph had spent years in jail in the dungeon beneath the palace and was not known to Pharaoh. But Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was brought to the Pharaoh’s attention only as a result of teshuvah done by the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer who confessed that he had failed to return the kindness that Joseph had shown him two years earlier (Genesis 40:9-15).
Immediately, Pharaoh summoned Joseph from the dungeon into the light in the royal court and said to him: “I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” The Mei HaShiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza) teaches “this means that all the matters of this world are like a dream that needs interpretation.” He observes that the Hebrew word for bread (lechem) is composed of the same letters of the word for dream (chalom), suggesting that just as we must interpret our dreams, we must also interpret the bread in our lives – that which sustains us and gives us nourishment and satisfaction. We must examine our lives and the ways in which we are nourished, and we must strive to speak and act in ways consistent with the virtues of love, justice, truth, and beauty (among others). These are things that give meaning to our lives. What teshuvah, years in the making yet still left undone, will bring clarity to the surface just as Joseph was brought to the surface?
Joseph explains to Pharaoh that his two dreams are really the same dream – the same message given by G-d to Pharaoh. Perhaps Pharaoh’s dreams are also a message for each of us. We will have times in our lives in which a spiritual practice seems unnecessary for there is great abundance and it feels as if the Divine Presence is with us wherever we go; and then we will have times of emotional and physical famine and spiritual exhaustion, in which G-d feels so far away that answered prayers seem impossible.
Joseph tells Pharaoh to find someone who has the qualities of discernment and wisdom (navon ve-chacham) who will preside over the land in its fullness and in its emptiness, gathering and storing grain for the lean years ahead. So it is with us. In our daily prayers, we ask G-d to grant us discernment and wisdom. The first of the interior set of blessings within the Amidah says: “Grace us with the knowledge, understanding and discernment that come from you. Blessed are You, Infinite One, who graciously grants knowledge.”
Today, as many of us and many of our neighbors struggle to sustain ourselves economically and spiritually, and as the land of Israel thirsts for winter rains in the midst of a severe drought, we ask that the Holy One bless us and the land of Israel with courage and strength and rain. May our spirits be agitated like Pharaoh’s so that we are motivated to interpret our dreams and our lives and to live lives of virtue. As we say in the Amidah: “Bless this year for us, Holy One our G-d, and all its types of produce for good. Grant dew and rain as a blessing on the face of the earth, and from its goodness satisfy us, blessing our year as the best of years. Blessed are You, Holy One, who blesses the years.”
Reb Sholom Brodt
SEEING, DISCERNING AND RECOGNIZING
Our parsha, Yosef’s dreams, Pharaoh’s dreams, the holiday of Channukah, the month of Kislev, which is associated with sleep, the month of Teves, which is associated with the tribe of Dan and the letter ‘ayin’ [an eye], all share the underlying themes of seeing, discerning and recognizing.
“HE RECOGNIZED THEM BUT THEY DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM” [29-30 Kislev 5762]
In last week’s parsha Yosef was sold by his brothers, served as a slave in Mitzrayim and finally ended up being in prison for 12 years [one year for each of the twelve brothers- including himself]. This week B”H, Yosef is getting out of jail and rises to power as he was appointed to be the Viceroy over all of Egypt. By devising a wise strategy he saves all of Egypt from certain starvation during the seven years of ‘great famine’. The famine had also reached the Land of Canaan where Yaakov Avinu dwelt with his family. Word had spread that there was food for sale in Mitzrayim. Yaakov Avinu sends his ten eldest sons to
purchase food in Mitzrayim and finally the brothers meet again. Only, Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him … not yet. There is still a lot of work to be done before Yaakov Avinu’s ‘ruach’ will be restored to be alive again.
REB NACHMAN ZTZ”L SAID: “AS LONG AS THE CANDLE IS BURNING IT IS POSSIBLE TO FIX.”
Even the tzaddik has to go through awesome struggles in this world; all the time, again and again! There is a verse in Mishlei which says: “ki sheva yipol tzaddik, v’kam!” The tzaddik falls seven times, and he keeps on getting up! What distinguishes the tzaddik, among other things is that no matter how many times he falls he keeps on getting up again and again.
This Shabbos we are blessed with the combined lights of the holy Shabbos candles and with the holy light of the Channukah candles. May we be blessed to receive holy light of the Torah, the holy light of Shabbos and of Channukah. May we be blessed to use this light to heal and fix our connections with each other, to recognize one another and to see the good points in ourselves and in each other.
YOSEF’S LAST NIGHT IN PRISON
The Ishbitzer Rebbe draws our attention to Yosef’s last night in prison. Surely Yosef constantly prayed for Hashem’s salvation, but the prayers of the last night before his release are the ones that opened the Gates of Salvation. Hashem was with Yosef and he was successful in all that he did. Yosef was constantly conscious of Hashem’s presence, and thus Hashem was with him constantly even in prison.
Throughout his imprisonment, Yosef did not stop trusting in Hashem. But that last night in prison was different, this time Hashem answered his prayers. That night he was on the verge of giving up and he had to gather all his strength and faith not to give up. That night he found in the deepest depths of his heart, the pure oil for his lamp to give light, to bring Hashem’s light into the darkest land, Mitzrayim.
We are B”H in the midst of Channukah and we are lighting candles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l often emphasized that on this holiday when we rededicated the Holy Temple, we should remember to rededicate our personal temples in our hearts. Like Yosef Hatzaddik, we must not give up. We must bring much more of Hashem’s light into the world, for it is still so dark.
“MY G-D, MY G-D WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”
What was Yosef’s prayer that night? “My G-d, my G-d why have You forsaken me?” Hashem, You are surely right here with me, You have decided that this is where I need to be right now. Am I not one of Your candles? I must light my Menorah to let Your light shine in this world. I need some oil. Hashem, please help me to find my pure oil to selflessly share Your light with my loved ones and with all Your creation.
CONTRIBUTE YOUR OIL – CONTRIBUTE YOUR LIGHT!
As we have learned, at the same time that the community of Yisrael was instructed to build a sanctuary for Hashem, so too was each individual instructed to make a sanctuary for Hashem in his and her heart. Just as we were given the mitzvah of contributing oil for Hashem’s sanctuary, so too we must ensure that there is pure oil in our personal temple.
In the temple service, oil was used for three different purposes. There was the oil for the Menorah, the anointing oil, and the oil that used as part of the ‘meal offering’ – the ‘Korban Mincha’.
CRUSHED TO GIVE LIGHT
Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu [our Rebbe-teacher]:
“v’atah te’tzaveh et bnei Yisrael = and you shall command the children of Israel… “yikchu eilecha shemen zayit zach = and they shall take to you pure olive oil… ‘katit lama’or = which was crushed to give light… leha’alot neir tamid = to give a continuous [daily] light”… (Exodus 27:20)
Rashi, on the words ‘katit lama’or’ – crushed to give light, cites the following teaching from the Talmud: Only the very first drops oil that came out of the first ‘squeezing’ of the olives were used for the Menorah lighting. This was the most pure oil and it did not have any ‘shmarim’ dregs or particles.
Often if not always, we need to be squeezed a little bit or crushed before we give forth our oil. To be squeezed and crushed is certainly painful, but it is not ‘bad’. Some commentators even go so far as to say that the crushing is a pre-condition to providing light. “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart”, said the Kotzker Rebbe.
Which is the purest oil? Which is the oil that provides the clearest light? It is the oil that comes from the first squeeze. In other words, we will all one day, sooner or later, contribute our oil and our light; the question is how many times will i have to be squeezed, how many times will my facade have to be crushed before [i will allow my oil] my inner light to shine forth? By respond immediately to Hashem as soon as we feel even the slightest of squeezes, we can bring to Hashem oil for light! This is the oil without dregs; this is the oil for the Menorah.
To this day we are still being squeezed and crushed. In these times we are living in, may we be truly inspired by Yosef Hatzaddik not to give up. We must give forth more oil, we must bring more and more of Hashem’s light into our lives and into the world. May Hashem answer all our prayers and open the Gates of Complete Salvation and Redemption.
THE OLIVE TREE
The Jewish people are referred to as a beautiful olive tree, abundant in oil and vitality. [Jeremiah 11] The Midrashim elaborate on this comparison:
— Just as the olive becomes sweeter by being crushed, so too [the children of] Yisrael, are sweetened and return to the paths of good through suffering. [See the Baal Shem Tovs’ teaching further on]
— Just as the leaves of the olive tree do not fall from it, neither in the summer nor in the winter, so too Yisrael’s existence will never be abolished.
— Just as olive oil does not mix with any other liquids and always rises to the top, so too Yisrael [remains distinct and] rises among the nations.
— Just as olive oil brings light to the world, so too Yisrael is a light unto the nations.
May we all be blessed with true love and may we all shine our light with joy. We send blessings of healing to all who need a ‘refuah shleimah’. May we all have a wonderful ‘lichtigeh’ Shabbos. Amen.
And it came to pass…(Genesis 41:1)
The three Torah sections (Vayeishev, Mikeitz and Vayigash) that relate the story of Joseph and his brothers… are always read before, during or immediately after the festival of Chanukah.
Since “to everything is its season, and a time for every purpose” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), certainly the arrangement of the festivals of the year, which are the “appointed times of G-d” (Leviticus 23:4), as well as the festivals and fasts instituted by the Sages, all have a special connection to the Torah readings in whose weeks they fall, since everything is masterminded by G-d. Thus the story of Joseph is destined to be repeated with the royal Hashmonai family in the Greek era…
And Pharaoh said to Joseph: “In my dream, I am standing on the bank of the River. And, behold, there come out of the River seven cows…” (41:17-18)In contrast, Joseph saw in his dream (recounted in the beginning of the previous Parshah) that, “We were binding sheaves in the field…”
Both Pharaoh and Joseph behold the future in their dreams, but with a significant difference. To Pharaoh life is a river, with himself standing on the riverbank-outside of its flow, a passive bystander to what transpires. To Joseph life is a field within which he toils, laboring at “binding sheaves”–gathering its diverse stalks and binding them into an integral whole.
Many are seduced by the enticements of Pharaoic life. “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free,” the children of Israel grumbled (Numbers 11:5) when G-d had stripped them of the shackles and security of slavery. Life is a free lunch in Pharaoh’s Egypt; there are no choices in your life, but neither is there the anxiety and responsibility they entail. You simply stand on the riverbank and watch the cows and years follow and consume one another.
Pharaoh’s vision may be every vegetable’s utopia, but there is little satisfaction and no fulfillment in his free fish. It is only in the toilsome labor in the field of life that the most important freedom of all is to be found: the freedom to achieve and create.
(from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And Pharaoh said to Joseph…there is none as understanding and wise as you (41:39)
“Understanding” (navon) is one who can deduce one thing from another; “wise” (chacham) is one who possesses wisdom. A navon who is not a chacham is like a mighty warrior who is unarmed; a chacham who is not a navon is like a weakling with armaments; a navon and chacham is a strong and armed warrior.
And to Joseph were born two sons… (41:50)
In galut (exile), a person is deprived of his “home”–of the environment that preserves his faith, nourishes his growth and spurs his achievements. But precisely because it deprives him of the support of his natural environment, the state of galut compels the person to turn to the inner reaches of his soul and extract from there reserves of commitment and determination never tapped in more tranquil times.
This is one positive function of galut. In addition, exile broadens a person’s horizons, bringing him in contact with things and circumstances he never would have encountered at home. Many of these are negative things and circumstances, contrary to the values of his homeland and tradition; but everything in G-d’s world possesses a positive potential. When a person learns to resist and reject the negative aspects of these alien things, he can then redeem the “sparks of holiness” they harbor at their core by utilizing their essence toward good and G-dly ends.
Joseph in Egypt experienced these two stages in the positive exploitation of galut. In naming his first son Manasseh (“forgetting”), Joseph referred to his struggles in an environment intent on eradicating all memory of home and roots, and how his battle against forgetting and disconnection uncovered his deepest potentials. His second son, Ephraim, so named “because G-d has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction,” represents the second dividend of galut–the manner in which the “land of affliction” itself is exploited as a source of growth and productivity.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
The treasure of teshuvah (Radical Torah repost) 2006
Here’s the d’var Torah I posted for this week’s portion two years ago at the now-defunct Radical Torah.
Late in this week’s portion, Mikets, there is an intriguing conversation between Joseph — by now, in command of Egypt’s storehouses, and second only to Pharaoh in the power structure of the land — and his brothers.
The first time the brothers visit Egypt in search of food, Joseph gives a secret order that their money-bags be returned to them along with their grain. Upon their next journey there, they go immediately to Joseph and protest that they don’t know how they managed to leave without paying him last time. “Peace be with you,” he responds, “Do not be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, must have put treasure in your bags for you. I got your payment.”
We, the readers, know perfectly well that the money was returned to them by Joseph. But he chooses to let them believe it is a gift from God. What gives?
One answer can be found by looking at the brothers’ response to the unexpected windfall, and what their response tells us about their theology and their sense of themselves in the world. In Genesis 42:27, as the brothers are on their way home from Egypt, one of them opens his sack and finds his money there. The brothers’ hearts sink, the text tells us, and they turn to one another trembling, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
In this light, Joseph’s statement about the money — that God must have given it to them — is a kind of gentle rebuke of their theology. The brothers leap immediately to anger with God instead of taking responsibility for their own actions or opening themselves to the possibility that this is a blessing in disguise. In return, Joseph takes care to credit God, as if to remind them of the Source from Whom all blessings flow.
Where Joseph sees blessing, the brothers see themselves being thwarted. These responses aren’t innate, but rather learned…and they offer insight into the way that the inability to forgive oneself, and to seek God’s forgiveness, can block one to blessing.
Joseph’s brothers did a dreadful thing when they were young. They made a terrible mistake, which caused profound suffering — especially for their father, who was inconsolable at losing Joseph. But it has been years, and they have grown. By now they regret what they did, and wish to move beyond it. And yet they feel plagued by misfortune. The famine, the arduous journey to Egypt, and then the startling discovery that their money had been replaced in their bags: being who they are, they can’t help suspecting some kind of plot. They mistrust the world, because they mistrust themselves.
Joseph, on the other hand, has grown into a model of faith in Providence. Despite the dire straits he has often found himself in, God’s name has been ever on his lips. In fact, one might argue that his misfortunes have been his best schooling. Having taken a few knocks, he becomes able to recognize God as the source of his dream-interpreting talents — and having made that recognition, he never again fails to give credit where it’s due. When he interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, he begins by asserting that not he but God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare. As a result of his faith and his humility, Pharaoh promotes him to vizier on the spot.
Joseph’s brothers respond to this new twist in their story with fear and blame, signs of their guilty consciences. Perhaps their ambivalent feelings about their brother have metamorphosed, with time, into regret and remorse. They’re caught in the past; they can’t let go of what they did, which means they can’t ask God for forgiveness, which means they can’t know themselves to be forgiven. They’re stuck, stunted by the moment of their worst collective transgression.
Joseph, in contrast, responds to uncertainty with calm faith. He knows that God is with him, and because he knows it, it is manifestly true. He trusts that things are unfolding as they should, that everything is happening for a reason — as, indeed, our perspective on the story tells us that it is. He was brought down to Egypt in order to be able to rise up; the Israelites will descend into Egypt in order to be freed; and in both the individual case and the national one, what’s important is the moral and spiritual valance of the journey, and the process of transformation that it entails.
Many of us may recognize something of ourselves in Joseph’s brothers. We have made mistakes — perhaps none so weighty as selling a bratty sibling into slavery, but mistakes all the same — and we are always in danger of forgetting the spiritual leap of teshuvah that leads to forgiveness. When we feel distant from forgiveness, every setback feels like a conspiracy against us, and the easiest response is fear and blame.
But we may also recognize something of ourselves in Joseph, too. This week’s portion invites us to find ourselves in the story’s hero: to have enough humility to credit our Source for our insight and understanding, and enough wisdom to navigate challenges on even the broadest of scales. To recognize blessings — even those which we ourselves had a hand in bringing about — as ultimately a gift from God, abundance flowing from the Source of All. As we meditate on this story this week, may we be truly able to recognize our misdeeds, make teshuvah with whole and open hearts, and relinquish our attachments to who we’ve been in the past…and may we be able too to mirror Joseph’s faith, trust, and benevolence in the face of whatever comes our way.
Torah Reading for Week of December 21-December 27, 2008
“Faith that Emerges from Crisis”
By Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhDAJR, CA President
“And Jacob saw that there was ‘shever’ in Egypt.”(Ber. 42:1). In the context of this verse, the word ‘shever’ means ‘food.’ However, it is a homonym, for ‘shever’ also means ‘destruction’ or ‘ruin.’ And in the Midrash, our Rabbis point out that by changing the position of the dot on the letter “shin,” you have the word ‘sever,’ which means “hope.” Perhaps Jacob saw ruination facing his descendants in Egypt – but he also saw the resulting redemption. He sensed the tragedy of famine, but he knew that the years of plenty preceding them would help his children survive, and that every famine is followed by prosperity. He saw in Egypt the episode of Joseph – starting with the ‘shever’ of miserable captivity and ending with the ‘sever’ of eminence. It is an intensely Jewish quality which our Rabbis read into Jacob’s vision: the ability to see beyond the crisis and the destruction to the hope and the promise. It is more than seeing the silver lining; it is a matter of seeing through the very cloud to the bright sun shining above whose warm rays will soon evaporate all clouds. The ability to survive adversity instead of being crushed by it lies in the G-dly gift of transforming a “shin” to “sin,” “shever” to “sever,” ruin to hope.
Furthermore, this capacity for converting “shever” to “sever” is not a matter of blind optimism. The Jew has always been optimistic, but it has been an enlightened optimism, not what William James called “the religion of the happy-minded.” It is the kind of optimism that requires insight and intuition, not only a profound and mighty faith. And more than that; the transformation of “shever” to “sever” requires hard work and sweat and often great sacrifices. It is a way of life, not a way of shielding one’s self from the ugly realities of existence.
During the past decades, within the Jewish community there have been studies pointing to massive assimilation, and youngsters searching for spiritual renewal outside of the walls of our community. Many individuals have viewed this dire situation as a spiritual “shever,” foretelling the decline of Judaism and the withering away of loyalty to the ideals of our sublime tradition. Because of this despair, it has been difficult for some to creatively plan expansive, energizing ideas and strategies in the face of the competing values of American society and thus they have drawn inward trying to protect their small community of faithful followers. There were others, however, who saw beyond the “shever” to the “sever.” They knew that the Jew has weathered many storms and surmounted previous crises, and so they began to lay the groundwork for the era of “sever,” where the uneducated and under-stimulated American Jewish community could begin to re-experience the vitality and depth of Jewish tradition through newly formed institutions and communal structures. With toil, will-power, and sacrifice they lifted the dot from the right bar of the “shin” and made hope of ruin. Now the students of these newly formed institutions are energetically, enthusiastically and creatively sharing the profound teachings of Judaism with communities that are being revitalized by their exposure to profound ideas and loving faithful Rabbis, Cantors, and Chaplains.
Each of us, in the course of a lifetime is beset by one “shever” or another. Our Tradition encourages us in such moments not to submit to defeat, but to look beyond to “sever.” And the best way to convert ‘Ruin into Hope,’ is by listening to the very next words of our Father Jacob, “Why do you look at one another?” Just looking about in desperate bewilderment is not going to help. Instead, “Get you down there,” begin to work and toil with faith. “Sever” will come
From Rabbi Shefa Gold
(At the End)
Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
Joseph gets out of prison by successfully interpreting Pharoah’s dream. He rises to power in Egypt. He has a dramatic encounter and reunion with his brothers who had wronged him.
THE FOUNDATIONAL STORY of our people is the story of leaving Egypt, going from slavery to freedom. This journey home is the story of consciousness evolving from narrowness and separation to expansion and awareness of its identity in the One. If the book of Exodus follows this journey of liberation, then Genesis is the story of how we got into that state of enslavement in the first place. And this portion of Miketz holds the key to that enslavement.
In the language of the soul, enslavement is the process of incarnation and the complete identification of ego with the material world. When the soul loses its conscious connection with the infinite, then it is “in Egypt”, (in constriction). Miketz reminds us how we got there, how we got stuck, how we got lost in the illusion of a limited reality. The blessing that is hidden in Miketz is that whenever we descend into the tangle of incarnation, we take with us the seeds of liberation.
It all happens so innocently. Joseph is raised up into power through his wisdom and psychic gifts. On behalf of Pharaoh, (the status quo), he gathers the wealth of the land during the time of plenty, and then sells it back to the people during the time of famine. Because of the system that Joseph sets in place, the wealth of the land is redistributed and the people become completely dependent on Pharaoh. As this system of dependency evolves, whoever is at the lowest socio-economic level becomes vulnerable. Joseph’s own people are the ones who will suffer and be enslaved by the system of power and wealth that he himself set in place.
AS WE DESCEND with our people into the bonds of physicality, we take with us the seeds of our liberation. We see in Joseph, the dreamer, a heart that still suffers and loves, despite the hardships that he has endured. Through Joseph, we struggle with power, and slowly make peace with our past. Through Joseph, we struggle with our past and slowly make peace with power. In Joseph’s heart, the two sides of his father’s legacy are revealed. The side of Jacob, the schemer, plays the game of getting even, while the side of Israel, the God-wrestler weeps with the glimmer of a love that transcends bitterness.
The bones of Joseph (his deepest essence) will be buried in Egypt, as seeds of liberation and awakening. Joseph is recognized by Pharaoh as “the one in whom the spirit of God lives.”1 The bones of Joseph represent his deepest intention, buried under so much of the illusion of Egypt.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
WHEN PHARAOH PERCEIVES the spirit of God in Joseph, he puts a ring on his finger, dresses him in fine linens, lays a gold chain on his neck, gives him a new name and an Egyptian wife. The challenge of power and wealth is that you become bound to serve the one who confers it upon you. You become invested in defending the system that keeps your wealth and power intact. If you can constantly remember that God is the true Source and know that it is really God that you serve, then your wielding of power will express the divine attributes of justice and compassion. This remembrance becomes more difficult when, like Joseph, we are carrying old hurts. Whatever is unhealed in us becomes an obstacle to the pursuit of justice, obscures the heart of compassion, and keep us locked in patterns of manipulation.
Even though the “Spirit of God” is in us, we spend most of our time listening to the command of Pharaoh, who has put the ring on our finger and the gold chain around our necks.
WE ARE TANGLED up in a system that is inherently unjust. We can work towards establishing a more equitable distribution of wealth. And we can honor and protect the seeds of liberation that are in us – our compassion and open-hearted vision of the preciousness of every being. When we carry old hurts and the bitterness that surrounds those wounds, then our every attempt to do justice is distorted by a sensation of pain And so the spiritual challenge is to heal those deep places of bitterness. In that healing, the Spirit of God in us is made manifest.
1 Genesis 41:38
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“And he gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities; the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same”. (Bereshis 41:48)
Yoseph gathered and stored grain during the years of plenty, in order to sustain multitudes of people during the years of famine. This story about what Yoseph had done, is not meant to relate to us the history of the events of what transpired in ancient Egypt. This story of Yoseph’s accumulating grain for the years of famine comes to teach each individual a profound lesson. How does this story relate to us, in our daily lives? Every person in his life goes through good years and bad year. Therefore, like Yoseph, every person is required to save during the good years for the lean Years.
During the good years, when one is healthy, young, string, capable, and has the opportunities, one should accumulate as much Torah knowledge and the performance of good deeds as possible, to, save them for the lean years. What are the lean years? This is the time of one’s life when they get older, and it becomes increasing more difficult to learn Torah and perform mitzvoth, due to a lack of physical strength. The following illustrates this concept. “Remember your Creator [by doing good deeds] in the days of your youthful vigor, while the evil days [the bitterness of old age are yet not come” (Koheles 12:1). “Whatever [mitzvot] your hand can find to do with your might [when you are young-, and healthy] that for there is no worth, nor experience, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the nether world, where you- will go,” (Koheles ‘3:11)). “Hillel said do not say, ‘When I am free I will study [Torah], for perhaps you will not become free’” (Avot 2:5).
These teachings warn a person not to wait for when it is almost too late to perform mitzvoth, but one should perform mitzvoth, when has the opportunity to do so. The previous leader of the Vaad of elders of Breslov in Yerushalayim, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender zal, commented in this teaching, and he gave himself as an example. He was over 90 years old and lost most of his vision, due to old age, when he gave over this analogy: He said that it was a good thing he worked hard at studying Torah and prayer before he became old, lost most of his vision and became weakened by old age. He was now able to pray most of the prayers and give Torah lectures from memory. He said that he had accumulated his vast knowledge when he was younger and in better physical condition. By doing this, he was able to continue serving Hashem through his memory, in the lean years of his old age, from that he stored-up in the years of plenty, in his youth. He had followed the advice that Yoseph gave Pharaoh, and the advice Yoseph had given to all of us. (Lekutai Halachot: Orach Chayim Hilchot Chanuka 3:7)
“And one of you [brothers]. and let him fetch your brother [Binyamin] and [the rest of you brothers] you shall be bound [in prison], that your words may be proven to be true.” (Bereshis 42:16)
Why did Yoseph want all 12 brothers to come together? He required that Binyamin to be brought to Egypt, even though he knew this might kill his father great anguish? The end of our verse tells us: “That your words may be proven to be true”. Our verse is informing us that only when there are 12 tribes assembled together can the truth be discerned. It is only through diversity can Hashem be properly served as was mentioned last week. Therefore, Yoseph wanted all his brothers present when he revealed himself to them, so they all could discuss what had happened to Yoseph and arrive at a truthful conclusion. The Talmud in the end of Brachot emphasizes that a person should not learn alone on a regular basis. For there would be no one to correct him if he made a mistake. He could come to derive the wrong interpretation.
However, when two or more people study the Torah together, they could discuss each others understanding and discuss where it is not clear. They would ask questions of each other to come to a better understanding of the text. Only in this way could the truth be discovered. Therefore there is a need for 12 tribes and 12 different views to derive the truth. This is what our verse is alluding to. (Lekutai Halachot: Choshen Mishpat: Hilchot Geneva 5:31).
“And the wine goblet (geveah) was found in Benjamin’s sack.”
Finding the wine goblet in Benjamin’s sack caused the brothers great pain and suffering. Just as today when a person goes through trouble, they worry and-become depressed. However, it was through the trouble of the of the wine-goblet incident that their entire family came to great joy. It was through the wine goblet incident that Yoseph revealed himself to his brothers and they all rejoiced as a result. When a person is in great trouble and becomes very bitter from his troubles, he should know and believe that even this trouble is for his good. Hashem’s great mercy is hidden in the bitterness of his troubles. Therefore, one should cry and scream for Hashem’s mercy to be aroused upon him, and await patiently for Hashem’s help. All troubles brought upon a person are only given for the end result to bring that person closer to Hashem and to eventual eternal joy. How do we know when Hashem’s mercy is hidden in one’s troubles? For our verse mentions the word geveah, wine-goblet. If you rearrange the letters of wine goblet “gaveah”; gimmel, bais, yud, ayin, the result is, yud, gimmel, and ayin, bais. Yud, gimmel, which has the numerical value of 13, which this numerical value refers to the well known 13 attributes of Hashem’s mercy. The letters ayin, bais, refer to the word av, which means cloud or thick in Hebrew. These two sets of letters combined together, tell us that within the brother’s trouble, caused by the geveah, wine-goblet, there was hiding Hashem’s great mercy. This is referred to by the word geviah, which is broken into two sets if letters, yod, gimmel: Hashem’s 13 attributes of mercy — and av: cloud, thickness, [Hashem’s mercy being very thick] or hidden, like a cloud protects from the harsh rays of the sun. Also, ayin, bais, refers to one of Hashems names, consisting of 72 letters [the numerical value of av being 71. This name refers to Hashem’s highest level of manifestation of His mercy to the world. Therefore, this verse informs us, that within every trouble a person experiences in life, is where one will find Hashem’s great mercy hiding. (Lekutei Halachot Orach Chayim: Hilchot Hodaah 6:45)
The Ishbitzer Rebbe draws our attention to Yosef’s last night in prison.
Surely Yosef constantly prayed for Hashem’s salvation, but the prayers of that last night are the ones that opened the Gates of Salvation. The Torah tells us that Hashem was with Yosef and therefore he was successful in all that he did. And Yosef, was constantly conscious of Hashem’s presence. Thus Hashem was always with him even in prison.
Though Yosef did never stopped trusting in Hashem throughout his imprisonment, the last night was different. This time Hashem answered his prayers. On this last night, says the Ishbitzer, Yosef was on the verge of giving up, ‘chas v’shalom’, and he had to gather all his strength and faith not to give up.
That night he found in the deepest depths of his heart, the pure oil for his lamp – to give light and to bring Hashem’s light into the darkest land, the land of Mitzrayim.
B”H we are in the midst of Channukah and we are lighting candles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l often emphasized, that on this holiday as we celebrate the rededication of our Holy Temple in Yerushalayim, we should remember to rededicate our personal temples, the temples in our hearts. Like Yosef Hatzaddik we must never give up. We must continuously bring much more of Hashem’s light into this world, for it is still so dark.
O holy Shabbes Inspiration Miketz
*Maqam Sigah, tri-chord: e half-flat f g (Mi half-flat fa sol)
Every Shabbat is associated with a maqam, a musical figure,
Maqam cognate to Hebrew maqom, signifying Place.
There’s only one thing I can’t handle
— rejection from God
he gets sold out by his brothers
isn’t that close?
Sold out by his brothers
he ends up going down to the darkest of places
exile into Mitzrayim Egypt narrow and dark
it doesn’t get much worse than that.
he goes down to Egypt with spice merchants —
Isn’t the sweet smell of the spice merchant caravan
wasted on Joseph?
Isn’t that detail of the story wasted?
One of the commentators —
that’s the sign from God that
You are never lost from Me
You will go down into exile
sold out by your brothers
and arrive with spice merchants
smelling sweet all the way down.
Joseph the dream master
he’s the one who harvests events
He knows dreams
he knows dreams imply blessings.
The journey to Egypt with the spice merchants
must have been the darkest time in his life
it smelled sweet all the way down
some sort of sign
do not despair, my servant Joseph
I will NEVER
You are spinning through the darkest part of your journey
and when you see your brothers, Joseph
you will bless them
you will say
it was not you who sent me here
I just knew it
you will think —
your brothers will ask
I smelled it, you will say
and they will think
Two teachings from Rav Kook
Mikeitz: Waiting for the Dream
It took a long time, but Joseph’s dreams eventually came to pass.
How long? Joseph became viceroy of Egypt at age thirty, and nine years later (after seven years of plenty and two years of famine), his brothers came to buy food. So Joseph’s dream that his brothers would one day bow down before him and recognize his greatness were fulfilled only when he was 39 years old. Since he had dreamt those dreams of future greatness at age 17, we see that they took 22 years to come true!
“Rabbi Levy said: one should wait as long as 22 years for a good dream to come true. This we learn from Joseph.” [Berachot 54a]
What is special about the number 22? In what way is it connected to the fulfillment of dreams?
Rav Kook noted that there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Through myriad combinations of these 22 letters, we can express all of our thoughts and ideas. If we were to lack even one letter, however, we would be unable to formulate certain words and ideas.
The ancient mystical work “Sefer Hayetzira” (“Book of Formation”) makes an interesting point concerning the creation and functioning of the universe. Just as words and ideas are composed of letters, so too, the vast array of forces that govern our world are in fact composed of a small number of fundamental causes. If all 22 letters are needed to accurately express any idea, so too 22 years are needed for all those elemental forces in the world to bring about any desired effect. Thus, we should allow a dream as long as 22 years to come to fruition.
Rabbi Levy is also teaching us another lesson: nothing is completely worthless. We should not be hasty to disregard a dream. In every vision, there resides some element of truth, some grain of wisdom. It may take 22 years to be revealed, or its potential may never be realized in this world. But it always contains some kernel of truth.
[adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 268]
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Joseph and Judah (II)
Miketz: Joseph and Judah (II)
As explained previously, the strife among Jacob’s sons centered on conflicting viewpoints regarding the sanctity of the Jewish people. Judah felt that we must act according to the current reality. Given the present situation, the Jewish people need to maintain a separate existence to safeguard their unique heritage. Joseph, on the other hand, believed that we should concentrate on the final goal. We need to take into account the hidden potential of the future era, when “nations will walk at your light” [Isaiah 60:3]. Thus, even nowadays we are responsible for the spiritual elevation of all peoples.
So, which outlook was correct – Judah’s pragmatic nationalism or Joseph’s visionary universalism?
The Present versus the Future
The dispute of Judah and Joseph is in fact a reflection of a fundamental split in the world. The rift between the present reality and the future potential is rooted in the very foundations of the universe. On the second day of creation, God formed the rakia, separating the water below from the water above [Gen. 1:7; see Chagigah 15a]. This separation signifies a rupture between the present (as represented by the ‘lower waters’ of this world) and the future (the ‘elevated waters’ of the heavens). The inability to reveal the hidden potential in the present is a fundamental defect of our world. Unlike the other days of creation, the Torah does not describe the second day, when this breach occurred, as being ‘good’.
Joseph Needs a Hey
According to the Midrash [Sotah 36b], the angel Gabriel taught Joseph seventy languages. He also added the letter hey from God’s name to Joseph’s name, calling him Yehosef [Psalms 81:6]. What is the significance of this extra letter?
The Sages wrote that God created this world with the letter hey, and the World to Come with the letter yud [Bereishit Rabbah 12:9]. For Joseph, each nation is measured according to its future spiritual potential, in the manner in which it will fit in the final plan of “kiddush Hashem”, sanctification of God and revelation of His rule in the world. The particular role of each nation relates to its unique language. Without the letter hey, however, Joseph could not properly grasp the language of each nation, i.e., their portion in the future world. The letter hey, used to form this world, allowed Joseph to understand the world as it exists now, and thus comprehend the languages of all peoples.
Joseph saw the sanctification of God in the world according to its hidden potential, with the help of a single letter. He used the hey, a letter open from the bottom, to connect to the present world. Judah, on the other hand, viewed the sanctification of God in the world as it is revealed now. “Joseph who sanctified God’s name in private, merited one letter of God’s name; Judah who sanctified God’s name in public, merited that his entire name was called after God’s name” [Sotah 36b].
Two Types of Tzaddikim
According to the Zohar, Benjamin complemented his brother Joseph: “Rachel gave birth to two tzaddikim, Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph was a ‘tzaddik for above’, and Benjamin his brother was a ‘tzaddik for below'” [Vayetze 153b]. What are these two types of saintly “tzaddikim”? The “tzaddik for above” continues the divine influence (“shefa”) from above, while the “tzaddik for below” passes it on below. The role of Benjamin was to imbue our lowly world with holiness. His whole life, Benjamin was concerned that the Temple should be built in his inheritance. Why was that so vital to Benjamin? The Temple is “a house of prayer for all peoples”, allowing all to share in its holiness. “Had the nations known how important the Temple was for them, they would have surrounded it with forts in order to guard over it” [Tanhuma Bamidbar 3].
When the brothers appeared before Joseph in Egypt without Benjamin, Joseph accused them of being spies. They had come without Benjamin, without the desire to influence and elevate the nations through the holy Temple. They were separated from the rest of the world, like the spies in the time of Moses who did not want the holiness of the Land of Israel to spread to the rest of the world.
The Monarchy and the Temple
The dialectic between Judah and Joseph finds expression in two institutions, the monarchy and the Temple. The monarchy, protecting the national sanctity of the Jewish people, was established in Judah’s inheritance, in Hebron and Jerusalem. The Temple, elevating all humanity, was built on Benjamin’s land. Yet, the Temple was partially located on a strip of land that extends from Judah’s portion to Benjamin’s portion. This strip represents the synthesis of Judah and Joseph, the integration of the national and universal outlooks.
“Miketz”, the name of the Torah reading, means “at the end.” The Midrash Tanhuma explains that God established an end for all things. Just as Joseph’s imprisonment finished, so too this conflict will be resolved after a constructive period of development and change. The fundamental dissonance in the world will be corrected, and the rift between the present and the potential, between the lower and higher waters of creation, will be healed.
[adapted from Shemuot HaRe’iyah 10, Miketz 5690 (1929)]
This is a beautiful Chanukah teaching from
Reb Mimi Feigelson that was published in
in this year’s Kol Chevra. It mentions this
week’s parsha, Mikeitz.
The Source of Light
Reb Mimi Feigelson
Torah Reading: Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
Haftarah Reading: Zekhariah 2:14 – 4:7
Barely two double sided pages in the Talmud are the primary rabbinic source to the foundation of Chanuka and the laws pertaining to lighting Chanukah candles. Within the context of questioning what oils are appropriate for kindling the Shabbat lights, the Talmud (tractate Shabbat 21b – 23a) questions the source of the holiday, the laws (no eulogies at funerals, the recitation of Hallel) and a long detailed discussion about the timing and location of the lighting of the candles themselves.
The core of the Talmudic discourse surrounds the lights – who lights, how many and why – and only in passing discusses the historic source for this celebration. It is for this reason that I point our attention specifically to the timing of the mitzvah of lighting the candles.
We are taught: The time of fulfilling this mitzvah is from when the sun sets until there are no more people in the market. If that isn’t specific enough, Rabba bar Bar Channa in the mame of Rabbi Yochanan teaches us that we are not talking about the shoppers, not even the merchants, we are talking about the time when the Tarmudai are no longer in the market place. Rashi explains that the Tarmudai were a people that would come out even after the merchants left and collect pieces of wood, splinters and slivers of wood, to sell later on to the home owners, so that they – the home owners – would have light in their homes.
This commentary of Rashi demands of us to pause and reflect on our life. What we are being challenged with here is the notion that the homeless are those that bring light into our home! The homeless are those that function as the closing bracket of timing for fulfilling the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles! The Tarmudai are not the merchants that offer us a service and we offer back to them words of gratitude, waiting to see them the following week. The Tarmudai are those that will remain in our consciousness both faceless and nameless.
Reb Shlomo Carlebach would share a considerable amount of time with the homeless of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When he died there were numerous stories of them coming to pay their respects as the funeral left from the Carlebach Shul on 79th St. When returning there for the first time, months after Reb Shlomo died I remember how proud I was that I had a teacher that the homeless missed as much as his students did. They told him that the hardest time of the day to be on the streets was the time between sunset and when the streets became empty. They said that during the day there were a lot of people on the street so that they weren’t alone. Late at night they would all settle into their night location but the time when people (ish u’bei’to – a person and their household – Shabbat 21b), as home owners/home dwellers, were rushing home – that was the time that they had nowhere to go. This was their hardest and loneliest.
Let’s return to our Talmud section for a moment:
The time of fulfilling this mitzvah is from when the sun sets until there are no more people in the market… the time when the Tarmudai are no longer in the market place. Is this not exactly the time that the homeless of the upper West Side of Manhattan were describing as their hardest time of day that contains their greatest darkness.
There is one halacha that seems to break this unbearable chasm between those who live on the inside and those who live on the outside – the location of the kindling. The Talmud, and later we will find this in the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Law, Rabbi Yeseph Caro) that the lighting of the candles needs to be precisely where they are meant to be placed – Hadlakah b’ makom hanacha ( lighting where they are placed) – ideally at the gates of our home, or as many practice at a window that is seen by the passerby. This location, the Talmud teaches us, is there to promote the spreading of the miracle of Chanuka – that people walking by will se them and remember what had happened in the time of the Maccabees.
It seems to me that there is another way to look at this location. We are taught, and thus sing, “ and we have no permission to use them, but rather to only glance at them.” We can’t read with their light, or even sit down to a romantic dinner with their glow. They are meant to be observed, acknowledged for the memory that they hold. Their light is their one mission.
There is, though, one caveat to that law. If there is a person, a homeless person, for example, that has no home to light candles in, that has no money to purchase Chanuka candles, then they can use our candles, the ones burning in our openings and windows to say a blessing and fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanuka candles.
It would appear to be teaching us that while we live in a world of home – dwellers and street – dwellers, a world of insiders and outsiders, a reality that in itself tells us that the world we live in carries pockets of darkness, nonethless, the one reality that has no room in our world is a reality in which no matter what state or condition we are in, we aren’t able to say a blessing over the light. Yes, we may not be the owners of the source of light, but as I remember Reb Shlomo saying, “Is it not a miracle that we can at least say a blessing over someone else’s light?”
Midrash Rabba opens its commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Miketz (in the end0 with a verse from E’Yov (Job 28) Ketz sam la’chosheh – “He brings an end to the darkness.”
It is true that there are blessed moments in our life that are filled with light – we have a home( ish ubei’to – both physical and figurative), we have candles to light and those to light them with. We even have the ability to share our light with those less fortunate. It is also true that there are times in our life that darkness prevails, that we feel as though we are wandering through the streets of G-d’s world ( Tarmudai). Rabba bar Bar Channa and the Midrash Rabba come to teach us that there is an end to that darkness – this Shabbat Chanuka comes to teach us that there is always a source of light in our life to say a blessing over- whether our own source of light or someone else’s.
May this Shabbat- Rosh – Chodesh – Chanuka bring all of us internal and surrounding light. May we bask in our light and share it with others. And may the Tarmudai of our life become named and faced!
Shabbat shalom, chodesh tov and Chanuka sameah.
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